Tariffs can help workers, but won’t undo damage done by administration’s policies
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Last week, President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE signed proclamations establishing new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, after a week of internal jockeying and mixed messages from the White House. Despite the disarray and haphazardness of the announcement, this administration has recognized a real problem that has hammered workers in Wisconsin and across the country for decades. Tariffs can indeed be a valuable tool for spurring domestic production and boosting industries that have been hit by unfair trade practices, but there is still a lot we do not know regarding the president’s actions.

We do not know which countries may be exempted from the tariffs, if any. We do not know how the tariffs may be impacted by ongoing NAFTA negotiations. We do not know what conversations the U.S. trade representative is having with other steel exporting countries ahead of the March 23 implementation date. And we do not know how this action fits into any broader, comprehensive strategy by the White House to level the playing field for all American workers. So far, there has been none.

Despite these unknowns, there are a few things that we do know about the state of manufacturing in the United States. Unfair trade practices from our economic partners across the globe undoubtedly disadvantage American workers and undermine our economy. Depending on how the Trump administration finalizes these tariffs, this action has the opportunity to help American workers who bear the brunt of Chinese steel dumping and global overcapacity by creating good-paying, middle class jobs – if done correctly. 

Unfortunately, although this decision will positively impact some workers, President Trump has proved time and again that the economic security of working families is not his real priority. When considering the how the Trump administration has fought for an agenda that puts Wall Street first and American workers last, this much is clear: President Trump announced the tariffs to serve a small, nationalist sect of the Republican Party and as a cheap attempt to try to save a Republican congressional seat in Pennsylvania.

From the first days of his administration, President Trump has worked for special interests and corporate lobbyists rather than standing up for American workers. The GOP tax scam he signed into law lines the pockets of massive corporations and their investors while leaving working class families with the bill. The tax bill even directly contradicted his rhetoric about supporting American workers as it includes incentives for companies to offshore jobs to other countries.

Additionally, President Trump has supported Republican attempts to deregulate the biggest banks on Wall Street and return us to a system that caused the 2008 financial crisis, threatening the economic security of families across the country.

And to make matters worse, President Trump has appointed Cabinet secretaries that support making it harder for workers to organize, raising prescription drug prices and privatizing our schools. President Trump has made it extremely clear that his administration is waging a war against American workers, and his tariff announcement will not reverse any of the damage he has done so far.


These actions on tariffs also do not change the fact that the Trump administration’s approach to policy making – on trade as well as many other issues – is rooted in the president’s nationalist and hateful worldview. He has continually disparaged people from other countries, from calling people from Mexico “drug dealers, criminals and rapists” to referring to Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries as “sh*tholes.”

President Trump’s rhetoric makes it impossible to engage with our trading partners to put into place an equitable trade policy framework for the 21st Century: one that raises the wages and strengthens the rights of all workers.

As President Trump continues to bluster through his agenda on trade, progressives in Congress have long had a clear set of priorities to ensure our trade policies work for the American people. We believe that in an increasingly connected world, how you do trade matters.

We demand trade policies that respect the dignity and economic security of workers. We demand trade policies that protect our environment and ensure our natural resources are preserved for our children and grandchildren. We demand trade policies that give families access to safe products and affordable medicines. And we demand trade policies that uphold U.S. sovereignty, instead of allowing multinational corporations to challenge our labor, environmental, and public health laws outside of our domestic court system.

We will continue to fight for trade agreements and economic politics that achieve these goals, and we hope President Trump will live up to his campaign promises and join us in our efforts to work for the American people. American workers need a president who will put their well-being above special interests and corporate lobbyists. It is time for President Trump to offer a concrete and comprehensive strategy to invest in American workers and ensure a fair playing field for all families. One correct action on tariffs only proves the adage that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Pocan represents Wisconsin’s 2nd District and is a member of the Appropriations Committee.