Breaking from GOP orthodoxy, Trump increasingly deciding winners and losers in the economy

President Trump is increasingly intervening in the economy, making decisions about corporate winners and losers in ways that Republicans for decades have insisted should be left to free markets — not the government.

.. On Friday, citing national security, Trump ordered the Energy Department to compel power-grid operators to buy from ailing coal and nuclear plants that otherwise would be forced to shut down because of competition from cheaper sources.

.. The order came one day after the president imposed historic metals tariffs on some of the country’s strongest allies and trading partners. Now the Commerce Department is further picking winners and losers as it weighs thousands of requests from companies for waivers from the import taxes.

“It replaces the invisible hand with the government hand,” said Mary Lovely, a Syracuse University economist. “You’re replacing the market with government fiat.”

.. The president has chastised individual companies, second-guessed the U.S. Postal Service’s business arrangement with Amazon and put pressure on Boeing and Lockheed Martin over the cost of their products.

.. Of course, Trump isn’t the only one to tinker with market forces. President Barack Obama backed subsidies for wind and solar power. And about 30 states have adopted laws mandating minimum purchases of renewable energy.

Obama also won passage of a health-care reform package that created winners and losers. Republicans criticized the Affordable Care Act at the time for forcing people to make purchases through the individual mandate.

.. Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) said that he and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) would co-sponsor legislation “to rein in the executive branch’s power to impose unilateral tax increases like these.”

.. “One of the reasons tariffs are not good policy in general is that it is a form of corporate welfare,” said Stephen Moore, an economist at the Heritage Foundation. “You’re saying consumers will have to pay more so this auto company or steel company or aluminum company stays in business. It’s the ultimate form of picking winners and losers.”

Trump Alienates Allies Needed for a Trade Fight With China

China’s predatory trade behavior is threatening sectors much more vital than steel and aluminum

“Beijing has doubled down on its state capitalist model even as it has gotten richer,” Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner, who both served in foreign-policy roles under former President Barack Obama, write in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. “Cooperative and voluntary mechanisms to pry open China’s economy have by and large failed.”

.. But Mr. Trump has consistently rejected collective action in favor of going it alone. His officials downgraded multilateral efforts to reduce steel overcapacity. In January 2017, Mr. Obama’s administration launched a case at the WTO against China for subsidizing aluminum, but Mr. Trump has failed to follow up.

.. since 2003 China has four times promised to address overcapacity in steel production, as its actual capacity quadrupled to roughly half the world total.

.. Yet China exports little steel to the U.S. because of existing duties and accounts for just 11% of its aluminum imports, far behind Canada. The Commerce Department argued for a global remedy because Chinese production depresses global prices and drives foreign producers out of third markets, and they then ship to the U.S.

This means the pain of Mr. Trump’s tariffs will fall not on China but on actors that play by the rules, including Canada, Japan and the European Union. When the EU threatened to retaliate, Mr. Trump said he would escalate by raising duties on European cars.

Chinese misbehavior has thus brought the U.S. to the brink of trade war with its own economic and strategic allies, echoing how Russian meddling has served to fuel internal strife in Europe and the U.S.

.. Chinese forced technology transfer, commercial espionage and intellectual-property theft, all aimed at creating Chinese champions in key industries by 2025.

These pose a far greater threat to U.S. technological leadership and the enormous value it adds to U.S. exports than do growing imports of steel and aluminum which, while vital to some communities, are commodities.

.. The U.S. is preparing a sweeping penalty against China, but it would be more effective if done jointly; otherwise, Beijing may simply persuade others to hand over their technology in exchange for Chinese sales or capital.

.. Most of all, though, it requires Mr. Trump to understand where leverage comes from.

“Chinese misbehavior with respect to intellectual property and economic espionage is a real problem that requires a response,” Patrick Toomey, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania, said in an interview. “We are much more likely to get our allies to work with us if we aren’t punishing them for selling us steel that our consumers want to buy.”

Trump Stuns Lawmakers With Seeming Embrace of Gun Control

In a remarkable meeting, the president veered wildly from the N.R.A. playbook in front of giddy Democrats and stone-faced Republicans. He called for comprehensive gun control legislation that would expand background checks to weapons purchased at gun shows and on the internet, keep guns from mentally ill people, secure schools and restrict gun sales from some young adults. He even suggested a conversation on an assault weapons ban.

.. At one point, Mr. Trump suggested that law enforcement authorities should have the power to seize guns from mentally ill people or others who could present a danger without first going to court. “I like taking the guns early,” he said, adding, “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”

.. “We’re not ditching any constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them,” Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, said in a statement.

Democrats, too, said they were skeptical that Mr. Trump would follow through.

.. At the core of Mr. Trump’s suggestion was the revival of a bipartisan bill drafted in 2013 by Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Despite a concerted push by President Barack Obama and the personal appeals of Sandy Hook parents, the bill fell to a largely Republican filibuster.

.. Democrats tried to turn sometimes muddled presidential musings into firm policy: “You saw the president clearly saying not once, not twice, not three times, but like 10 times, that he wanted to see a strong universal background check bill,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota. “He didn’t mince words about it. So I do not understand how then he could back away from that.”

.. Just what the performance means, and whether Mr. Trump will aggressively push for new gun restrictions, remain uncertain given his history of taking erratic positions on policy issues

The gun control performance on Wednesday was reminiscent of a similar televised discussion with lawmakers about immigration in January during which the president appeared to back bipartisan legislation to help young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children — only to reverse himself and push a hard-line approach that helped scuttle consensus in the Senate.

.. Mr. Trump’s comments during the hourlong meeting were at odds with his history as a candidate and president who has repeatedly declared his love for the Second Amendment and the N.R.A.

.. But at the meeting, the president repeatedly rejected the N.R.A.’s top legislative priority, a bill known as concealed-carry reciprocity

.. Mr. Trump also flatly insisted that legislation should raise the minimum age for buying rifles to 21 from 18

.. When Mr. Toomey pushed back on an increase in the minimum age for rifles, the president accused him of fearing the N.R.A. — a remarkable slap since the association withdrew its support for Mr. Toomey over his background check bill.

.. The president did return several times to a proposal that conservatives like: arming teachers in schools and ending the so-called gun-free zones around schools