During a CNBC interview on Friday, commerce secretary Wilbur Ross dismissed concerns that President Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on aluminum and steel will raise prices for American consumers, arguing that a penny here and a dollar there “doesn’t mean anything” to people.
Ross explained that Trump’s tariffs would raise the price of the “typical $35,000 car” by $175, which he characterized as “no big deal.”
During another portion of the interview, Ross, waving a can of soup, said he wanted “to emphasize, again, the limited impact.”
“This is a can of Campbell Soup. In the can of Campbell Soup, there’s about 2.6 cents, 2.6 pennies worth of steel, so if that goes up by 25 percent, that’s about 6/10 of one cent on the price of Campbell Soup,” Ross said. “Well, I just bought this can today at a 7-Eleven down here, and the price was $1.99. So who in the world is going to be too bothered by 6/10 of a cent?”
Ross then put down the soup and picked up a can of Coke.
“Here’s a can of Coca-Cola,” he said. “Coca-Cola has 3 cents worth of aluminum in it, so if that goes up 10 percent, that’s 3/10 of a cent. I just paid $1.49 for this can of Coke.”
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Ross, who was worth $2.9 billion in 2016, summed up. “So all this hysteria is a lot to do about nothing.”
Ross’ spin is odd, given that the Trump administration has spent months relentlessly attacking House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for characterizing the bonuses that some workers received as a result of the Republican tax cut bill as “crumbs.” Trump even went as far as to compare Pelosi’s comment with Hillary Clinton’s description of some of his supported as “deplorable” during the 2016 campaign.
But now that Trump has thrown his support behind tariffs that would hurt American businesses and consumers, the administration is singing a different tune about how much a dollar here and a dollar there matters.
Beyond his callousness about price increases that will have a tangible and negative impact on some Americans, Ross’ comments don’t account for the possibility of additional price increases caused the trade war that Trump’s new tariffs are likely to spark.
New: EU is preparing to impose tariffs on Harley-Davidson motorbikes, bourbon whiskey & Levi's jeans in retaliation for Trump’s planned tariffs on steel and aluminium imports -European Commission
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) March 2, 2018
Ross’ talking point echoed one used by the other top White House official who reportedly persuaded Trump that tariffs are a good idea — Peter Navarro, the director of the White House national trade council.
“They spin. The fake news, they put all this hyperbole out about massive price effects,” Navarro said on Fox News, ignoring that the “hyperbole” is in many cases coming directly from businesses.
MillerCoors statement: We are disappointed with President Trump’s announcement of a 10% tariff on aluminum. While we won’t know the details for a week, the Department of Defense recently reported that aluminum does not cause any national security issues. (1/3)
— MillerCoors (@MillerCoors) March 1, 2018
Meanwhile, on Friday morning, Trump defended his proposal with a tweet storm indicating he doesn’t understand how tariffs will negatively impact people.
The president’s unexpected announcement of the tariffs plan during a White House meeting with aluminum and steel executives on Wednesday reportedly caught most administration officials off guard, and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has left the door open to Trump changing his mind.