Steel tariffs bring vindication for Trump's feisty trade advisor Peter Navarro

Don Lee, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in Business News

WASHINGTON -- Minutes before President Trump entered the White House Roosevelt Room on Thursday to announce sweeping tariffs on imported metals, the president's economic A-team stood stone-faced near the president's podium -- but not Peter Navarro.

The 68-year-old former UC Irvine economics professor looked almost gleeful as he waited for Trump to issue final orders levying 25 percent duties on foreign steel and 10 percent on aluminum, all in the name of national security.

Trump's move defied his own party and has infuriated U.S. allies. But the tariffs represent just the kind of shocking, shake-up of the status quo on trade that Navarro has long advocated.

And in the last several weeks, perhaps no one has emerged as a more forceful public champion of the White House's explosive new trade policy than Navarro, who has made multiple appearances on national television and other media to explain and defend the tariffs in his characteristically combative style.

"Let's remember this," he told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace a week ago. "Donald Trump ran against 16 Republicans. None of those Republicans supported Donald Trump's positions on trade. He beat every one of them."

Many lawmakers, businesses and economists believe the tariffs ultimately will hurt American consumers and the economy, while weakening relations with key allies such as Canada and the European Union. Trump's National Economic Council director Gary Cohn resigned in protest last week.

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For Navarro, who declined to be interviewed on the record, the tariff plan marks something of a personal vindication and another stunning turn in his brief stint in Washington and long career as an academic and wannabe politician.

A noted China hawk and one-time big fan of Hillary Clinton, Navarro volunteered on Trump's campaign as an economic advisor (the only one with an economics PhD). And after Trump's victory, the president named him head of a newly created National Trade Council.

Navarro gave up his tenured position in California, and an active life in sunny Laguna Beach, and came to Washington to run a small office and work on the president's "Buy American, Hire American" agenda.

But within a few months, the trade council was dissolved, and Navarro found himself in a kind of White House purgatory. Though his work continued, access to the president was restricted as he was eclipsed by rival administration officials favoring more open-trade policies.


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