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The Jolt: Trump tariff on luxury imports would target two metro Atlanta prizes

If you occupy certain offices in Sandy Springs or down toward the airport, much of your attention on Thursday was given to the following sentence published by WirtschaftsWoche, a German weekly business news magazine:

“Bei Macrons Besuch in Washington im April sagte Trump, er werde seine Handelspolitik beibehalten, bis keine Mercedes-Modelle mehr auf der Fifth Avenue in New York rollten.”

President Donald Trump, the magazine reports, is considering a tariff on all imported luxury automobiles. A jackleg translation of the above sentence: “During (French President Emmanuel) Macron’s visit to Washington in April, Trump said he would stick to his trade policy until no more Mercedes-Benz vehicles roll down Fifth Avenue in New York.”

If true, this poses a direct threat to two of metro Atlanta’s biggest economic development prizes of the last 10 years. Only this spring, Mercedes-Benz officially opened its new U.S. headquarters in Sandy Springs. Three years ago, Porsche Cars North America opened a 27-acre, $100 million complex adjacent to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The Street website on Thursday offered this potential explanation:

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There's a 10% import tariff for U.S. cars going into Europe and just a 2.5% import tariff for European cars coming into the U.S. The White House could level those tariffs, matching Europe's 10% or possibly going even higher. A similar relationship previously existed between China and the U.S. However, China recently lowered its automotive import tariff from 25% to 15%.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Commerce Department launched an investigation to determine whether auto imports threaten national security. That could increase the odds that perhaps Trump will actually look to take some action against European luxury automakers. Perhaps lower EU automotive tariffs on U.S. cars would be enough to please the White House.

While she made no reference to the above possibility, it is significant that U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, on Thursday broke with Trump for the first time since her election last year -- over tariffs now in effect on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and Europe:

“Today’s actions — and the inevitable retaliatory moves by these countries — will hurt working Americans, negatively affect our economy, and do not further the goal of fostering more equitable trade,” she said in a written statement.

Handel’s Sixth District is home to the new U.S. headquarters of Mercedes-Benz.

The Roswell Republican wasn’t alone. Here are a few lines from Jamie Dupree’s Washington blog:

[W]hat might have been the most telling part of this entire story was this - I never saw a single statement from a member of Congress on Thursday in support of the new steel and aluminum tariffs. Not one. From Speaker Ryan on down, the move was cast as a mistake, which might cost American jobs.

But remember - this was part and parcel of what Mr. Trump promised on the campaign trail. He argues that Americans have been taken advantage of by bad trade deals, and he is going to try to force changes that benefit U.S. companies and U.S. workers.

Remember that press releases are one thing. A Republican-controlled Congress has the power to intervene in U.S. trade policy. The real question is, with mid-term elections quickly approaching, whether Republicans in D.C. are willing to pick a fight with a president who now controls the GOP base.

***

We noted earlier this year that former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, once the toast of the town for his bipartisan friendship with Gov. Nathan Deal, has fast become a liability in GOP races. 

During the gubernatorial primary that ended last month, Clay Tippins criticized GOP rival and former state senator Hunter Hill for accepting an endorsement from Reed in 2016.

Now a 2011 video is making the rounds in which Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle praises Reed. The key quote:

"I want to say a special welcome and appreciation for the mayor. He said some awfully nice things about me. I'll tell you -- this is a man of great passion, conviction, and character...This guy does not shy away from a fight. I value that. I appreciate that...Great things are in store for the city of Atlanta because of this great friend and this great Mayor Kasim Reed."

Reed has pledged to fully cooperate with federal investigators probing allegations of corruption in his City Hill administration, could yet emerge unscathed from the probe. But it underscores how drastically the political winds have shifted around the ex-mayor, once the state’s most prominent Democrat.

***

Stacey Abrams on Thursday pledged to release her income tax reports once the Republican contest for governor is hashed out next month. The Democrat was responding to calls from the Georgia GOP to reveal her financial records -- even though Republican runoff candidates Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp have yet to do so.

Carmen Foskey, the Georgia GOP’s executive director, expressed skepticism.

"We're glad to hear that Abrams plans to release her tax returns, but we've seen this play before,” said Foskey. “First she punts, then she amends her financial disclosures and tries to figure out what her story is going to be."

The Abrams campaign had its own response to the GOP attacks. It criticized the “debt-ridden” state party, which faces legal costs after settling a racial discrimination lawsuit.

***

Atlanta attorney Randy Evans, who will be sworn in Monday by Vice President Mike Pence as the next U.S. ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, has tendered his resignation to Gov. Nathan Deal as co-chair of the state Judicial Nominating Commission.

***

The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials has joined a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 U.S. census.

The plaintiffs allege that the move is racially discriminatory and could result in a severe undercount of minorities.

***

In a video session with the New York Times, Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed defended the religious conservative alliance with President Donald Trump as an issues-only accord. The money quote:

“The last thing you or anyone else wants is a church-based political movement whose primary function is to be the moral policeman of society and decide who is and who isn’t righteous enough to govern.”

***

An email arrived today from Vietnam. Chuck Searcy, a Georgia native and veteran now devoted to seeking out and defusing unexploded ordinance from the war years, pointed us to a veterans organization that doesn’t want Ken Burns or Lynne Novick to win an Emmy for their “Vietnam War” series that recently appeared on PBS. Among the complaints:

[I]t paid far too little attention to the millions of civilian deaths the U.S. caused in Southeast Asia, skips over the millions of people still suffering from the effects of Agent Orange and ignores some 700,000 tons of unexploded ordnance still lurking in the fields of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, still killing and injuring today.

***

A sign of the times: The Marietta Daily Journal reports today that security issues could put an end to the use of local schools as polling places on election days.

***

A day after he was roundly criticized for a tweet implying Valerie Jarrett isn’t black, GOP operative Seth Weathers changed his explanation for the post. On Wednesday, Weathers, who ran Michael Williams’ last-place campaign for governor, tweeted: 

“FYI, this is the ‘African-American’ that @therealroseanne offended” above a picture of the former Obama adviser, who is black. Roseanne Barr’s TV show was canceled after she posted a racist tweet about Jarrett. She later said she didn’t know Jarrett was black. 

Asked what he meant by his use of quotation marks, Weathers told us he doesn’t “believe in hyphenated Americans. We’re all Americans.”

Amid a torrent of criticism, he came up with a new explanation. He told the Associated Press that he was making fun of Barr for claiming she didn’t know Jarrett was black.

Okay.

We will let state Rep. Buzz Brockway, a former Republican candidate for secretary of state, have the final say. Via Twitter:  “Come on (Weathers) this is not OK. Rosanne is not a hero and Valerie Jarrett is out of politics. We need to be growing the GOP, not driving people away from it.”

***

Where in the world is U.S. Sen. David Perdue? Southeast Asia, as it turns out, for the second time in two months. The Republican was in Taiwan earlier this week meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen, part of an official congressional trip with other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. We’re told Perdue will head to Singapore next to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue, a defense and security conference. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is also slated to be there, as is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It’s being held in the same city as a U.S.-North Korea summit slated to occur later this month. Perdue was in China back in April.

 ***

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson on Thursday continued to strike upbeat notes about Robert Wilkie, Trump’s new VA secretary nominee. Isakson, the Senate VA Committee chairman, said Wilkie is “very approachable and very knowledgeable,” as well as likely “confirmable,” but he also withheld a final judgment until after his Senate confirmation hearing.

***

We get press releases all the time about members of Congress winning awards from various interest groups, but one that came through our inbox this morning caught our eye. The Civil Air Patrol, the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, plans to award U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, with its highest honor, the Silver Medal of Valor, for his actions during last year’s baseball field shooting. 

Loudermilk, an Air Force veteran and Civil Air Patrol member, is cited for aiding a wounded player that day and distracting the gunman from firing at others. "Lieutenant Colonel Loudermilk's actions quick thinking and heroic actions reflect great credit upon himself and the Civil Air Patrol," the citation says. He’ll be given the award at the group’s regional conference in Peachtree City tomorrow. Read about the baseball field shooting and Loudermilk’s eventful last year here. 

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