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Trump threat to go all the way on tariffs still to be assessed

President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin

President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin attend a joint news conference after a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, on July 16. Credit: AFP/Getty Images/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI

With a renewed airing of grievances, President Donald Trump on Friday sought to push public attention toward matters of trade and investment, threatening to impose tariffs on all Chinese goods and bashing the Federal Reserve from the sidelines.

He tweeted that the Fed's efforts to boost interest rates threaten U.S. economic expansion. Usually the White House withholds comments on the central bank's decisions, given its independence. Whatever real-world impact his message may or may not have, it is a sop to anti-Fed sentiment on the political right. Short-term, the talk helped suppress stock prices.

Clearly, the president briefly deflected attention from his Russia scandal and from ex-lawyer Michael Cohen's reported recording of Trump advising him to send a check to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal in 2016. Earlier, Trump said he was unaware of such payments.

Asked on CNBC if he would expand tariffs to all the annual $500 billion in Chinese imports, Trump said he's "ready to go to 500."

"I’m doing this to do the right thing for our country. We have been ripped off by China for a long time,” he said. “I don’t want them to be scared, I want them to do well…I really like President Xi [Jinping].”

At first glance, this seemed like reflexive posturing. What he says when prompted in an interview can fall short of being thought-out or even serious. Earlier in the week, Trump took up an interviewer's question about Montenegro and stirred a buzz by characterizing the NATO nation as "aggressive" and a hypothetical threat to start World War III. It probably signified no plan on Trump's part.

With Trump under fire as appearing too pliant toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, all this marked part of a pre-weekend blitz of defensive tough talk from the president. If things don't "work out," he told the network, "I'll be the worst enemy he [Putin] has ever had."

Whatever that may mean, the president also relied on his familiar practice of trying to project allegations against him onto his partisan foes such as Hillary Clinton or his predecessor, Barack Obama. 

"Obama was a patsy for Russia. A total patsy," he said, in the same petulant, evidence-free "I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I" tone as his famous Clinton debate interruption: "No puppet, no puppet, you're the puppet."


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