STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This week, the United States and China hold a 13th round of trade talks. They're trying to resolve a trade war in which the U.S. imposed tariffs. China retaliated. And more U.S. tariffs loom. The latest round unfolds amid an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, as well. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro is with us again. Mr. Navarro, welcome back to the program.
PETER NAVARRO: Mr. Inskeep, how are you, sir?
INSKEEP: I'm OK. Thank you very much. Is the situation, in your view, any more promising for these talks than it has been in previous rounds?
NAVARRO: The big picture here, Steve, is any deal with China must comprehensively address what is called China's seven deadly sins. It's the intellectual property theft, the forced technology transfer, the killing of Americans in mainland China, fentanyl. I mean, the sins literally go on and on. And on this point, President Trump has steely resolve. It's either a big deal or no deal. That's been his posture from day one.
INSKEEP: So do you see signs of a big deal coming from the Chinese side?
NAVARRO: Look. He - I - they're coming. On Thursday, the big show is between Ambassador Robert Lighthizer on our side - Liu He on the Chinese side. I'm concerned about a possible miscalculation by China. They clearly prefer anybody but Trump as president. As we get closer to this election, they see Trump as the only president in the last 30 years who stood up to them. You've got Joe Biden, a senator and vice president - weak on China. Frontrunner Liz Warren has already come out against the Trump tariffs, which shows that Warren clearly doesn't understand the importance of the tariffs.
INSKEEP: I want to get to...
NAVARRO: Defending American technology...
INSKEEP: I want to get to your central point here, Peter. It sounds to me like you're...
NAVARRO: My point is that...
INSKEEP: You're worried the Chinese are going to try to outwait the president - is what you're saying.
NAVARRO: Yeah. I mean, the problem here is, with Warren coming out against the tariffs, she clearly doesn't understand the importance of those tariffs in bringing China to the negotiating table and defending American technology. So that's an element which has always been part of this equation. So what - the big concern here is a possible miscalculation.
INSKEEP: Does impeachment cost the president leverage, then, because it's going to be harder for him to say he's going to be around for another two years, four years - whatever - even another year?
NAVARRO: Well, first, there's no impeachment process until Nancy Pelosi has the House of Representatives formally vote to open that. Until then, it's only a partisan circus, in my judgment, designed to overthrow a duly elected president the Democrats can't beat at the ballot box. The president does what I do every day. He goes to the White House and thinks about creating great jobs and great wages for the American people. We're at 6 million jobs and counting, over half a million manufacturing jobs. And we are about the business of business in America trying to create prosperity for the middle class. So...
INSKEEP: Can you negotiate the same way then? Can you negotiate the same way then, regardless of this impeachment inquiry?
NAVARRO: There's no question about it. Steely resolve on the part of President Donald J. Trump - steely resolve Ambassador Robert Lighthizer - between the two men, they have over 50 years of experience dealing with the Chinese. And this is the 13th time we will have met. Maybe it's lucky this time. But it's steely resolve.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about something that the president said the other day, though, on television. He was questioned about urging an investigation of Joe Biden's family in Ukraine, which is the center of the impeachment inquiry. And he added he wants the same in China. Let's listen to a bit of that.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.
INSKEEP: If the president's trying to negotiate a strong trade deal with China, doesn't he appear weak when he's also asking China for a political favor?
NAVARRO: No. And time is precious here. I want to say of the two deals, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement is far more important...
INSKEEP: We could - I'm going to ask you...
NAVARRO: ...Than any China deal.
INSKEEP: I'm going to ask you about that. But can you answer this question? Why is that...
NAVARRO: No. I don't think it shows...
INSKEEP: Why does that not show the president's weakness?
NAVARRO: I don't think it shows weakness or strength or anything other than - look. The people know the president is the only president to stand up to China in the last 30 years. His posture is one of steely resolve. That would be a very big mistake for anyone to underestimate their resolve.
INSKEEP: Is the president willing to work with Congress to pass the U.S.-China - rather the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal even amid impeachment - an impeachment inquiry or impeachment proceedings? Will he go ahead and work with Congress and even sign something if it's passed?
NAVARRO: Of course. He's worked with Congress for the last almost three years when we had the first impeachment effort. But, Steve, of the two deals, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement is far more important than any China deal in the short run. It has twice the amount of trade with Canada and Mexico than it does with China. More importantly, the U.S. exports five times as many products to Mexico and Canada than it does to China. If Nancy Pelosi fails to put USMCA up for a vote this month - will be a signal failure of our political process and an economic catastrophe. And here's the problem. There's only a few days left, Steve, in the legislative calendar before the end of 2019. And Nancy Pelosi has already squandered numerous opportunities. We're working with them. Lighthizer, as the ambassador, is working every day with them. Let's get it on the floor for the American people.
INSKEEP: Peter Navarro, thanks for your time - appreciate it.
NAVARRO: My pleasure.
INSKEEP: That's White House adviser Peter Navarro. Now NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe has been listening in to this. Ayesha, good morning to you.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: What did you hear there that moved the story forward?
RASCOE: I think it's interesting that the administration seems to be downplaying this idea that they will get a big deal. They say that that's what they want, and they have the steely resolve that President Trump is not going to back down from that. But it didn't sound like Navarro was very confident that the Chinese would go along with that. And even though he was saying that the president is ready to dig in on this issue of this trade dispute with China, the manufacturing sector in the U.S. is suffering right now. It's in contraction. And you have even the services section - sector in the U.S. is growing now at its lowest level since August 2016. And so that - there are some issues and some concerns about a potential recession on the horizon. And that could play into these talks with China.
INSKEEP: I guess we should note that. If Navarro says either a big deal or no deal - and I don't see a sign of a big deal, he says - that suggests no deal, which means that more tariffs that are already scheduled would go into effect on October 15 and again in December. But the administration has had some political trouble getting those done because there's so much pushback from business and industry.
RASCOE: Yes. And even though they say that they're going to drive this kind of hard bargain, when you have an impact on the economy, that's when they've pulled back in the past. They don't want to hurt consumers. And consumers are being affected by these tariffs, even though the administration doesn't like to talk about that. U.S. consumers are paying more because of these tariffs.
INSKEEP: And some of the president's political supporters are suffering, as well.
INSKEEP: Ayesha, thanks so much.
RASCOE: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe.
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