McConnell urges GOP senators to call Trump about tariffs

McConnell urges GOP senators to call Trump about tariffs
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Senate to take up Trump's border-immigration plan next week Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback MORE (R-Ky.) is urging his colleagues to call President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Rove warns Senate GOP: Don't put only focus on base Ann Coulter blasts Trump shutdown compromise: ‘We voted for Trump and got Jeb!’ 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.

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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 RobertsPompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation Budowsky: Warning to Senate Republicans The Hill's Morning Report — Negotiations crumble as shutdown enters day 17 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 GardnerThe Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal 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 HeitkampOn The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction Gary Cohn criticizes the shutdown: 'Completely wrong' EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks 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 CornynTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test 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 LighthizerMcConnell urges GOP senators to call Trump about tariffs Companies brace for trade war 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.”