You Can Now Read the Secret Trump Administration Report That Claimed Your Toyota Is a National Security Threat
More than 18 months after Congress mandated its publication, the Biden administration on Tuesday night published a Trump administration report that sought to justify imposing tariffs on imported cars under the guise of national security.
The 116-page document is, among other things, a useful reminder that tariffs imposed for ostensible national security reasons do not make America more secure. In fact, the Department of Commerce report dispenses with that notion in its very first paragraph. “The Secretary in this investigation again determined that ‘national security’…includes the ‘general security and welfare of certain industries, beyond those necessary to satisfy national defense requirements,'” the report states.
Once you’ve established that national security means protecting favored domestic industries, all manner of outright protectionism is allowed via Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962—a flawed law that gives the president broad, unilateral power to impose tariffs on national security grounds.
The Trump administration never invoked the February 2019 report to impose tariffs on foreign automobiles and car parts, even though the president repeatedly threatened to do so. But Trump did use similarly hollow claims about national security to impose Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum imports—tariffs that the Biden administration has kept in place since taking office in January.
And even though the report was never used to justify new tariffs, it became the subject of a political fight between the White House and Congress. Frustrated by the White House’s unwillingness to make the report public—even as the president was using the threat of new tariffs on foreign cars for political gain—Congress in December 2019 ordered the report’s release no later than January 2020. The Trump administration ignored the order, and lawsuits seeking its release went nowhere.
“It was wholly unacceptable that the previous administration defied federal law and refused to release this report,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R–Pa.), who led the congressional effort to force the report’s release, in a statement on Tuesday. “A quick glance confirms what we expected: The justification for these tariffs was so entirely unfounded that even the authors were too embarrassed to let it see the light of day.”
The report is a warning for how the law’s broad powers could be exercised by a future administration. For example, it depicts
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