Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
Why couldn’t we all just get along?
The tweet came before 6 a.m., as President Trump’s tweets often do. It was early March, and the Trump administration had just announced steep tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. That did not make China or America’s European allies happy. Last week, after the U.S. imposed tariffs on $60 billion worth of Chinese goods, it was reported that China would respond with their own tariffs on $3 billion of U.S. goods.
We think of today’s Washington as being rigidly divided along party lines on nearly every issue. But a bloc of Democrats in the Senate just joined with Republicans and the Trump administration on a bill that would lighten some restrictions on banks imposed by the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law, one of President Obama’s signature policy achievements. Meanwhile, some congressional Republicans are considering legislation that would stop President Trump’s new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, which several Democrats and labor leaders have publicly supported.
Republicans are in revolt. Economists on the left and right are deeply skeptical. President Trump’s top economic adviser resigned rather than be party to it. The culprit: tariffs, and specifically the president’s decision to slap duties on imported steel (25 percent) and aluminum (10 percent).
Al Capone was busted for tax evasion. Leona Helmsley was, too. But gangsters and entitled millionaires aren’t the only ones who hold something back from the tax man. Each year, Americans of all stripes underpay the IRS by hundreds of billions, aided by the fact that the agency lacks the resources to catch all the cheaters.
President Trump boldly announced last week that he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to talk disarmament, working to fulfill his recent State of the Union promise to prevent Pyongyang from obtaining nuclear missiles that could hit the U.S. homeland. In making that pledge, Trump declared, “I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations.”
The announcement on Thursday night that President Trump planned to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, likely in May, was weird. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed blindsided by the move, it breaks with U.S. precedent (no sitting commander in chief has ever met with a North Korean leader), and it was announced at the White House in part by South Korean officials, rather than senior U.S. figures, like Tillerson or national security adviser H.R. McMaster or Trump.
Late last year, graduate students watched as legislators in the House debated giving them a hefty new tax bill: A version of the GOP tax plan proposed to treat tuition waivers as taxable income. Although that plan was later dropped, Congress is once again considering legislation that could affect graduate students’ bottom lines. And the federal government is considering ending some of its student loan forgiveness programs, which could raise the economic barrier to entering certain public service professions and leave social workers, teachers and other people in public-service fields that require graduate degrees paying thousands of dollars more for their education.
Every president’s election-year nightmare — a recession — is suddenly looming over the 2020 race. In a survey released earlier this week by the National Association of Business Economics, 38 percent of economists predicted that the country will slip into an economic downturn next year, and another recent poll of economists put the chances of a recession in the next 12 months at 1 in 3. Those predictions are getting a lot of attention, and it’s not hard to see why — an economic slowdown in the middle of the presidential election cycle could reshape the race, potentially changing the calculus of Democratic primary voters and undermining President Trump, who has made the strong economy a central selling point of his presidency.