Navarro was born on July 15, 1949, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father, Alfred "Al" Navarro, a saxophonist and clarinetist, led a house band, which played summers in New Hampshire and winters in Florida. After his parents divorced when he was 9 or 10, he lived with his mother, Evelyn Littlejohn, a Saks Fifth Avenue secretary, in Palm Beach, Florida. As a teen, he lived in Bethesda, Maryland in a one-bedroom apartment with his mother and brother. Navarro attended Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.
Peter Kent Navarro (born July 15, 1949) is an American economist and author. He serves in the Trump administration as the Assistant to the President, Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, and the national Defense Production Act policy coordinator. He previously served as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House National Trade Council, a newly created entity in the executive branch of the U.S. government, until it was folded into the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, a new role established by executive order in April 2017. He is also a professor emeritus of economics and public policy at the Paul Merage School of Business, University of California, Irvine, and the author of Death by China, among other publications. Navarro ran unsuccessfully for office in San Diego, California, five times.
Navarro attended Tufts University on an academic scholarship, graduating in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He defaulted on a federally funded student loan, and was sued in 1979 in Boston Municipal Court by Tufts University trustees for failing to repay the $1,652.83 loan. He then spent three years in the U.S. Peace Corps, serving in Thailand. He earned a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1979, and a PhD in Economics from Harvard under the supervision of Richard E. Caves in 1986.
As a doctoral student in 1984, Navarro wrote a book entitled The Policy Game: How Special Interests and Ideologues are Stealing America, which discussed that special interest groups had led the United States to "a point in its history where it cannot grow and prosper." In the book, he also called for greater worker's compensation to help those who had lost jobs to trade and foreign competition. His doctoral thesis on why corporations donate to charity is one of his most cited works. He has also done research in the topic of wind energy with Frank Harris, a former student of his.
Navarro’s political affiliations and policy positions have been described as "hotly disputed and across the spectrum." While he lived in Massachusetts studying for his PhD at Harvard, he was a registered Democrat. When he moved to California in 1986, he was initially registered as nonpartisan, and became a registered Republican in 1989. By 1991, he had again re-registered as an Independent, and carried that affiliation during the 1992 San Diego mayoral election. Around this time, he still considered himself a conservative Republican.
From 1981 through 1985, he was a research associate at Harvard's Energy and Environmental Policy Center. From 1985 through 1988, he taught at the University of California, San Diego and the University of San Diego. In 1989 he moved to the University of California, Irvine as a professor of economics and public policy. He continued on the UC Irvine faculty for more than 20 years and is now a professor emeritus. He has worked on energy issues and the relationship between the United States and Asia. He has received multiple teaching awards for MBA courses he has taught.
While teaching at UC Irvine, Navarro ran unsuccessfully for office in San Diego, California, five times. In 1992, he ran for mayor, finishing first (38.2%) in the primary, but lost with 48% to Susan Golding in the runoff. During his mayoral campaign, Navarro ran on a no-growth platform. He paid $4,000 in fines and court costs for violating city and state election laws.
In 1993, he ran for San Diego city council, and in 1994 for San Diego County board of supervisors, losing each time. In 1996, he ran for the 49th Congressional District as the Democratic Party nominee, touting himself as an environmental activist, but lost to Republican Brian Bilbray, 52.7% to 41.9%. In 2001, Navarro ran in a special election to fill the District 6 San Diego city council seat, but lost in a special election with 7.85% of the vote. Veteran political consultant Larry Remer, who ran two of Navarro’s campaigns, describes him as "the biggest asshole I’ve ever known."
Navarro rejoined the Democratic Party in 1994 and remained a Democrat during each of his subsequent political campaigns. In 1996, while he was running for Congress, Navarro was endorsed by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton and spoke at the 1996 Democratic Convention, saying, "I'm proud to be carrying the Clinton-Gore banner." He positioned himself as a "strong environmentalist and a progressive on social issues such as choice, gay rights, and religious freedom."
In 2001 Navarro married Leslie Lebon, a California architect. The couple lived in Laguna Beach with Lebon's son from a previous marriage while Navarro was a professor at UC Irvine. In late 2018, Lebon filed for divorce in Orange County.
Navarro supported Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign in 2008. Navarro supported President Barack Obama's phase-out of incandescent light bulbs, the adoption of wind energy, and carbon taxes in order to stop global warming.
In 2012, Navarro directed and produced a documentary film based on his book, Death by China. The film, described as "fervently anti-China", was released under the same title and narrated by Martin Sheen. From 2011 until 2016, Navarro was a frequent guest on the radio program The John Batchelor Show.
Navarro opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In an April 2015 op-ed, Navarro said, "To woo us, their spinmeisters boast the TPP will spur American exports to stimulate sorely needed economic growth. In truth, the American economy will suffer severely. This is because the TPP will hammer two main drivers of economic growth—domestic investment and 'net exports.'" Navarro said in March 2017 that TPP "would have been a "death knell" to America's auto and vehicle parts industry that we "urgently need to bring back to full life." Politico's Jacob Heilbrunn and the Economist argue that there may be a disconnect between Navarro's policy on China and his opposition to the TPP, as scuttling the TPP will strengthen China's hand.
In 2016, Navarro served as an economic policy adviser to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. He advocated for an isolationist and protectionist American foreign policy. Navarro and the international private equity investor Wilbur Ross authored an economic plan for the Trump campaign in September 2016. Navarro was invited to be an adviser after Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner saw on Amazon that he co-wrote Death by China. When told that the Tax Policy Center assessment of Trump's economic plan said it would reduce federal revenues by $6 trillion and reduce economic growth in the long term, Navarro said that the analysis demonstrated "a high degree of analytical and political malfeasance". When the Peterson Institute for International Affairs estimated that Trump's economic plan would cost millions of Americans their jobs, Navarro said that writers at the Peterson Institute "weave a false narrative and they come up with some phony numbers." According to MIT economist Simon Johnson, the economic plan essay authored by Navarro and Ross for Trump during the campaign had projections "based on assumptions so unrealistic that they seem to have come from a different planet. If the United States really did adopt Trump's plan, the result would be an immediate and unmitigated disaster." When 370 economists, including 19 Nobel laureates, signed a letter warning against Trump's stated economic policies in November 2016, Navarro said that the letter was "an embarrassment to the corporate offshoring wing of the economist profession who continues to insist bad trade deals are good for America."
In October 2016, along with Wilbur Ross and Andy Puzder, Navarro co-authored an essay titled "Economic Analysis of Donald Trump's Contract with the American Voter".
On December 21, 2016, Navarro was selected by President-elect Trump to head a newly created position, as director of the White House National Trade Council. He outlines Trump's trade policy as aiming to create jobs, revive the manufacturing sector, and improve the country's trade balance. He warned that trade deficits could jeopardize U.S. national security by allowing unfriendly nations to encroach on American supply chains. One of his main missions is to focus on behaviors by other countries that he considers abusive, cheating, illegal, and unfair against the U.S.
In April 2017, the National Trade Council became part of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, of which Navarro was appointed Director. By September 2017, the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy had been folded into the National Economic Council, which meant that Navarro would report to NEC Director Gary Cohn.
During the campaign Navarro, together with Wilbur Ross, who became Trump's Commerce Secretary, designed a $1 trillion infrastructure development plan for Trump's presidential campaign. The plan called for $137 billion in tax credits to private business to induce them to financing the bulk of infrastructure spending. Economists across the political spectrum derided the proposal. Trump released a $1.5 trillion version of this plan in February 2018 but the Republican-controlled Congress showed little enthusiasm for the proposal, with The Hill reporting, "President Trump's infrastructure plan appears to have crashed and burned in Congress".
During the early stage of the Trump administration, Navarro was still known to be a Democrat, but by February 2018 he had again re-registered as a Republican.
In February 2018, several media outlets reported that Navarro's influence in the administration was rising again and that he would likely be promoted from the secondary billet of Deputy Assistant to the President to Assistant to the President, giving Navarro parity with the NEC Director. Josh Rogin, writing for The Washington Post, reported that Navarro had used his prior time of lower influence to lead several low-profile policy items, such as working to increase military funding, drafting Executive Order 13806, and leading the effort to solve a dispute between the United States and Qatar over the Open Skies Agreement between the two countries.
In June 2018, Navarro said that there was "a special place in hell" for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, after Trudeau said that Canada would respond to U.S. tariffs against Canada with retaliatory tariffs. Trudeau’s remarks and Canada's response to these tariffs were already public and well-known when Navarro made this comment. Navarro later apologized.
In May 2019, Navarro said that Trump's decision to place tariffs on Mexico unless Mexico stopped illegal immigration to the United States as "a brilliant move".
In August 2019, Navarro asserted the tariffs of the ongoing China–United States trade war were not hurting Americans. Citing extensive evidence to the contrary, Politifact rated Navarro's assertion "Pants on Fire."
Navarro has said that a large part of China's competitive advantage over the United States stems from unfair trade practices. Navarro has criticized China for pollution, poor labor standards, government subsidies, producing "contaminated, defective and cancerous" exports, currency manipulation, and theft of US intellectual property. In his 2012 documentary, Navarro said that China caused the loss of 57,000 US factories and 25 million jobs. Navarro has maintained that China manipulates its currency and, on August 5, 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department officially designated China as a "currency manipulator."
In September 2019, after Trump tasked him with combatting China's usage of international mail rates to more cheaply ship products into the US, Navarro successfully led a diplomatic effort to the third Extraordinary Congress of the Universal Postal Union, where it agreed member countries could opt-in to self-declare their rates starting in July 2020. This agreement arose following repeated threats from the Trump administration to leave the UPU unless global postage rates were changed; at the summit, Navarro claimed that countries like China were unfairly benefitting from international delivery prices, particularly when it came to e-commerce deliveries.
In six of his books about China, Navarro quotes a "Ron Vara", whom he describes as a China hawk and former Harvard PhD doctoral student in economics, and who says Sinophobic things about China and the Chinese. An investigation by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that no such person existed, and that Ron Vara (an anagram of Navarro) appeared to represent views that Navarro himself held. Navarro has admitted to making up the character, an author surrogate, and quoting him in his books. Economist Glenn Hubbard, who co-authored Seeds of Destruction with Navarro, has said he was not aware that Vara was fictional, and that he did not approve of Navarro attributing information to a fictional source. In December 2019, a memo apparently authored by Ron Vara began circulating in Washington DC. The memo highlighted the "Keep Tariff Argument" and the use of tariffs against China a few days before an additional 15% tariff on $160 billion of Chinese made goods was set to be implemented. Navarro later confirmed that he had written the memo.
On January 29, 2020, Navarro issued a memo warning that novel coronavirus could "evolv[e] into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans" and that the "risk of a worst-case pandemic scenario should not be overlooked". He argued for restrictions on travel from China. Navarro wrote another memo on February 23, 2020, arguing that the disease "could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls" and calling for an "immediate supplemental appropriation of at least $3 billion." At the same time that Navarro issued these warnings, he publicly stated that the American people had "nothing to worry about" regarding the coronavirus.
Navarro worked with the DHS to initiate a crackdown on counterfeited and pirated e-commerce goods from overseas, and he promoted the administration's actions on the matter. Trump signed an executive order on the matter on January 31, 2020.
In February 2020, it was reported that Navarro was conducting his own investigation into the identity of the author of an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times criticizing the Trump Administration.
On March 27, 2020, Trump appointed Navarro to coordinate the federal government's Defense Production Act policy response during the coronavirus pandemic. In this position, Navarro promoted domestic production of coronavirus-related supplies in addition to a general nationalist agenda.
In May 2020, Navarro criticized stay-at-home orders, arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns will kill "many more" people than the coronavirus.
Navarro clashed with Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, over whether the administration should promote the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus, even though the drug's effectiveness was unproven. In July 2020, Navarro touted a widely criticized study as showing that hydroxychloroquine was an effective coronavirus treatment; public health experts pointed to limitations with the study and to the fact that multiple randomized controlled trials failed to conclude that hydroxychloroquine was an effective treatment.
In August 2020, administration officials terminated a contract that Navarro had directly negotiated for the purchase of 42,900 ventilators for use in the pandemic. A US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson said the cancellation was "subject to internal HHS investigation and legal review", as an oversight subcommittee of the US House of Representatives concluded that the government had overpaid for the ventilators by US $500 million.