McConnell urges GOP senators to call Trump about tariffs

McConnell urges GOP senators to call Trump about tariffs
© Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? Dems charge ahead on immigration Biden and Bernie set for clash MORE (R-Ky.) is urging his colleagues to call 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 and express their opposition to tariffs amid growing worries that a trade war with China could hurt Republican Senate candidates in the midterm elections.

McConnell told GOP colleagues at a private lunch on Tuesday to call Trump and make their views known, an unusual move for the leader who has been a loyal soldier for most of Trump’s first 15 months in office.

ADVERTISEMENT

Concerns over Trump’s threat last week to impose tariffs on as much as $150 billion worth of Chinese imports dominated the conversation at the Senate Republican lunch.

“This was a big topic at our lunch today. I don’t know of any Republican that supports tariffs in the Senate,” said Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairman Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsSchumer, author discussed possible Kansas Senate run: report Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Republicans writing off hard-line DHS candidate MORE (R-Kan.), an outspoken critic of Trump’s trade policies. 

Asked if anything was decided at the lunch, Roberts said, “Yeah, call the president.”

Several other sources familiar with the lunch said it was McConnell who encouraged GOP senators to call Trump and voice their opinions.

Roberts said if Trump isn’t already aware of the likely negative impact of tariffs on Republican-leaning farm states, “he’s becoming more and more aware every day.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDem super PAC campaign urges Republicans to back impeachment On The Money: Cain withdraws from Fed consideration | Says he didn't want 'pay cut' | Trump sues to block subpoena for financial records | Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle McConnell pledges to be 'Grim Reaper' for progressive policies MORE (Colo.) told colleagues Tuesday that tariffs would hurt the economies of farm states that are also key battlegrounds for control of the Senate, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

Some Republican lawmakers left the meeting frustrated with Trump’s trade threats. 

“We were doing so well. We passed the tax cuts, we passed the Dodd-Frank rollback, we have deregulation, the job market is strong and now we’re going to [mess] it up,” said a GOP senator who uttered a profanity in irritation.

Senate Democrats are facing tough reelection races in states that would likely be hurt by Chinese tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports, including Indiana, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota. 

Trump’s threats to battle China over imports and exports have sent commodity prices sliding and given embattled Democratic incumbents a potent issue to run with against the president.  

“Seventy percent of all of our soybeans, which is our largest cash crop, are destined for the Pacific Rim, the bulk of which goes to China,” said Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward MORE (D-N.D.), who is a top GOP target in November. “That’s why I’m working aggressively to prevent this from happening and to encourage the powers that be to step back from the ledge and think of a different policy.”

Heitkamp said North Dakota manufacturers of farm equipment, such as Bobcat, could also be hurt by Trump’s proposed tariffs on steel.

“We manufacture a lot of large farm equipment. Anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of import costs in that farm equipment is steel and prices are already going up,” she added.

Gardner is warning colleagues that tariffs will hurt families in farm states and that could make it tougher to win in rural states, according to fellow GOP senators. 

“To be clear, I don’t support a tariff track,” Gardner told The Hill. “It’s not good for farm states, it’s not good for anyone.”

While Gardner said he understands concerns about Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property and the Chinese government’s insistence on joint-venture ownership of U.S. businesses doing business in its country, he warned the impact on American farmers and businesses must be weighed carefully. 

“There is quite a bit of concern, and I share that concern that some of the retaliation may target some of our ag states and some of those states where we have real potential in terms of picking up Senate seats,” Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynKushner saying immigration plan will be 'neutral' on legal admissions: report Cornyn campaign, Patton Oswalt trade jabs over comedian's support for Senate candidate MJ Hegar announces Texas Senate bid MORE (Texas) said after the lunch.

Fears of a trade war eased a bit on Tuesday after Chinese President Xi Jinping softened his country’s stance on taxing U.S. imports.

Speaking at the Boao Forum for Asia, Xi said his government would lower tariffs on imported automobiles, make it easier for foreign insurance and financial services firms to operate in China, and enforce intellectual property rights more strictly.

Trump has also promised to provide federal support to farmers hurt by retaliatory Chinese trade measures.

But that gives little comfort to farm-state Republicans like Roberts.   

“I told [U.S. Trade Representative] Bob LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerChinese, US negotiators fine-tuning details of trade agreement: report The Trump economy keeps roaring ahead Trump says no discussion of extending deadline in Chinese trade talks MORE last evening when I had a very nice talk with him and I said, ‘Look, we don’t want another subsidy program,’ ” Roberts said. “Just give us a market and sell our product. We need an export sale.”