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Sunday Politics


The United States is already in a tense trade war with China, and the president this past week decided to use his favorite economic tool, tariffs, to possibly start another with Mexico. With little advance notice, President Trump threatened to levy a 5% tariff on all Mexican goods unless Mexico stops Central American migrants from showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border. The announcement roiled financial markets, upset members of his own party, but did it change the subject from impeachment after Robert Mueller's statement earlier this week? Joining us now is our very own Mara Liasson, NPR national political correspondent.

Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I must begin by asking, is this threat to levy tariffs even real?

LIASSON: That is a good question because in the past, the president has made some threats. He's threatened to close the border with Mexico. He's threatened to shut down the entire asylum process. And he hasn't followed through on those. But he does always like to go for the dramatic gesture to show his base that he's fighting.

He also loves tariffs, even if they don't get results, or even if they get negative results, because in this case, American companies and consumers are going to be paying these tariffs, not Mexico. Our two economies are so intertwined, someone said levying tariffs on Mexico is like levying tariffs on Texas. But that's not something the president cares about. He sees tariffs as an all-purpose tool for any dispute.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the timing of this is also odd for another reason. The new NAFTA, as it's known, the renegotiated U.S.-Canada-Mexico agreement, has been sent to Congress for ratification, right?

LIASSON: That's right. The first paperwork has been filed. This will make it more difficult. Chuck Grassley, who's the chairman of the Senate Republican - a Republican senator, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has called this a misuse of the president's tariff authority, says it will seriously jeopardize the ratification of USMCA.

Then there's the question of the long term. What country would negotiate a free trade, as in no-tariff, treaty with Trump if he's going to turn around and slap them with tariffs?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you know, we've had all this talk about Mexico, but let's not forget about this.


ROBERT MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was, of course, Robert Mueller on Wednesday. He didn't say anything new - right, Mara? - but he said it in his own voice. So I guess the question now is, has this changed the dynamic in the House on impeachment?

LIASSON: I think it's changed it in some ways. You've got calls for impeachment getting louder. Some 2020 candidates are calling for it. But by one count, only about 55 liberal Democrats are calling for impeachment. No Democrat in a swing district - that is the districts that matter in 2020 - is calling for it.

And according to Nancy Pelosi, the underlying dynamics, the political dynamics of this hasn't changed, which is if you open formal impeachment hearings and that process does not lead to removal, which it can't because the Senate is still controlled by Republicans, you are handing Trump a huge victory.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So if Mueller's appearance didn't radically change the political dynamics of impeachment, what did it tell us?

LIASSON: It told us two things. One, television really matters. Trump understands this more than anyone else. Trump - Mueller didn't say anything that wasn't in the report. So he didn't say anything new, but he made news. People paid attention because he was on television. They don't want to read a 445-page report.

The second thing it told us is that Trump is still rattled and obsessed by the investigations. He gave a long, angry screed on the South Lawn to reporters. He just can't move on, even though the public wants him to.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Mara Liasson, NPR national political correspondent.

Thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.