President Trump is remaking the global trade order without significant political resistance or penalty, unchecked by a largely compliant Congress and bolstered by the loyalty of his supporters — even those likely to be hurt by his burgeoning global trade war.
The Senate on Wednesday passed a nonbinding measure calling for a greater role in overseeing Trump’s trade decisions, an implicit criticism of new tariffs the president has levied on some of the country’s closest allies and largest trading partners. But the vote has no power to prompt a course change from the White House. And it follows failed attempts to advance measures that could have given Congress new power to restrain Trump.
Congress’s passivity in the face of Trump’s escalating trade conflict is one of several factors that have made it easier for the president to push on. Others have included markets that haven’t melted down, business leaders who have done little beyond using rhetoric to criticize the trade spat, and Republican voters who have stood by their president. In each of these cases, critics of his trade policy had hoped Trump would find reason to be dissuaded.
The trade changes mirror Trump’s rapid and similarly unchecked efforts to reposition the United States in the global political order. During his trip to Europe this week, the president has antagonized the country’s NATO allies. He also plans to meet next week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, seeking to tighten ties with a traditional rival.
On trade, U.S. partners have retaliated with their own tariffs on U.S. goods, targeting GOP strongholds and paining sensitive industries and areas that depend on access to foreign markets. New polling suggests, however, that Trump supporters in those areas are standing by the president.