Dems tread cautiously on Trump's tariffs

Dems tread cautiously on Trump's tariffs
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For Democrats, responding to President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE’s aggressive trade actions hasn’t been easy.

Senators seen as possible presidential candidates in 2020 have repeatedly called for tougher actions on trade from the executive branch, with some saying President Obama didn’t do enough.

But that doesn’t mean they want to back Trump, whose unpopularity with the left means virtually any policy he backs is reviled.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Keystone XL Pipeline gets nod from Nebraska Supreme Court MORE (D-Mass.) offered a mixed review of the 25 percent tariffs on steel and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum that Trump officially announced on Thursday.

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“The proposed tariffs take the right approach but they target a narrow section of the economy and put our allies in the same boat as countries like China that cheat constantly on trade, all while the administration ignores the root of the problem,” she said in a statement provided to The Hill ahead of Trump’s announcement.

Asked a slate of follow-up questions, a spokeswoman for Warren declined to comment further.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Keystone XL Pipeline gets nod from Nebraska Supreme Court MORE (I-Vt.) took a similar approach, arguing that Trump was making a mistake in not singling out China.

“I think the main target of our concern has got to be China,” he told CNN, adding that he would support revoking permanent normal trade relations with that country, a step that could raise tariffs on all Chinese imports.

An aide to Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate Gillibrand unveils mental health plan MORE (D-N.Y.) said she would take a look at Trump’s proposal, while an aide to Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate MORE (D-Calif.) said she “supports fair trade but believes these actions by President Trump will only bring us closer to a trade war that will hurt California jobs and our workforce.”

Walking briskly through the Capitol basement, Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate MORE (D-N.J.) said he would “obviously have strong feelings” about the issue but declined to comment until he had seen the details of Trump’s announcement.

It’s not hard to imagine a world in which Democrats would back the steel and aluminum tariffs.

In the 2016 primary, Sanders won support by moving to the left of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces DHS cyber agency to prioritize election security, Chinese threats ABC chose a debate moderator who hates Trump MORE on trade. Under pressure, Clinton withdrew her support for a Pacific Rim trade deal backed by Obama.

Trump’s political ascendance, however, has scrambled trade politics.

Trump campaigned as a trade skeptic, going against his own party and winning the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — a first for a Republican candidate in decades.

A new Quinnipiac University poll released this week found that most Democrats oppose the tariffs and don’t approve of Trump’s handling of trade policy.

Seventy-three percent of Democrats oppose the steel and aluminum tariffs, compared to 20 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Independents, according to the poll.

Eighty-five percent of Democrats also disapprove of Trump’s handling of trade and 90 percent say they disagree with the president’s statement that trade wars are “good and easy to win.”

A few Democrats have offered support for Trump’s tariffs, including Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump awards Medal of Freedom to NBA legend Bob Cousy Overnight Energy: Green groups sue Trump over Endangered Species Act changes | Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency | Wildfires in Amazon rainforest burn at record rate Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency out west MORE (W.Va.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBank watchdogs approve rule to loosen ban on risky Wall Street trades Dayton mayor assigned extra security following verbal spat with Trump The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE (Ohio), who face reelection in states won by the president.

“Today’s action finally sends a clear message to our trading partners that we aren’t going to allow them to cheat Americans out of their jobs and infect global markets,” said Brown, who is frequently mentioned as a dark horse 2020 contender.

Manchin added on Thursday that it was “past time” for a president to protect American interests.

“I believe our allies and our trading partners will understand that the president cannot stay silent any longer, he must give this country and West Virginia workers a fighting chance,” he said in a statement.

Democratic leaders in the Senate have struck a line close to the rhetoric employed by Warren and Sanders.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, lambasted the decision before Trump had even finished making the announcement.

“The sweeping tariffs announced today are like dropping a bomb on a flea. Launching an all-out trade war will alienate the allies we need to actually solve the problem of steel dumping, and could have huge unintended consequences for American manufacturers who depend on imported materials,” Durbin said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? MORE (D-N.Y.) joined with Republicans to publicly urge Trump to back down.

But he also noted that he was more ideologically aligned with Trump on trade than he was with Obama.  

“President Trump has identified the right opponent, China, much better than both the Obama and Bush administrations did. Both Democrats and Republicans have been blind to this issue, and Trump isn't,” he said.

Still, Schumer warned that Trump's proposed tariffs were “haphazard” and not thought through well.

“Don't swing blindly and wildly at our foe, China,” he said, hours before the president announced his plan. “Trump ought to rethink his plan so it actually achieves what he says he wants it to achieve.”