Worried GOP views Trump trade war with angst

Worried GOP views Trump trade war with angst
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Republican lawmakers are returning to Washington this week with their eyes focused on an escalating trade war with China that has roiled the stock market and put them on edge over the economy and this fall’s midterms.

Congressional aides say Trump’s tariffs will be the hot topic of conversation at party caucus meetings this week, even as they wonder what leverage they can exert on a president who vowed to put his stamp on trade.

“I don’t know there’s much you can do there,” said one senior Senate GOP aide.

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Democrats and Republicans alike believe November’s elections will be about Trump’s presidency.

The White House and GOP have sought to make the contests as much about the economy as possible, believing strong economic growth and the Republican tax-cut law can overcome the ever-present controversies surrounding Trump’s tenure.

Trump’s trade actions are a threat to that narrative. They have already contributed to a sell-off on Wall Street, and they have raised fears that some economic gains from lower taxes could be lost to higher consumer prices triggered by tariffs.

An analysis by the right-leaning Tax Foundation said that in 2018, more than a quarter of the gains from the tax law could be lost because of the new tariffs.

Republican free-trade proponents hope they can persuade Trump to focus more on using existing enforcement mechanisms and less on tariffs that invite retaliation on U.S. goods.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi, Schumer press for gun screenings as Trump inches away The malware election: Returning to paper ballots only way to prevent hacking First House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons MORE (R-Ky.) told a group of farmers in business leaders in Kentucky last week that Trump’s threats were making him “nervous” and warned that even modest tariffs could become a “slippery slope” to an all-out trade war.

Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump lauds tariffs on China while backtracking from more To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies Feds face mounting pressure over Epstein's death MORE (R-Neb.) was much more pointed.

“If he’s even half-serious, this is nuts,” Sasse said of the president’s actions. “This is the dumbest possible way to do this.”

Many other Republican lawmakers are leery about criticizing Trump, who is popular with the party’s base.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan moving family to Washington Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington Ex-Parkland students criticize Kellyanne Conway MORE (R-Wis.) has kept a low profile on the issue. Early last month, however, he came out strongly against Trump’s announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and warned of “unintended consequences.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE (R-Utah) on Friday took a relatively soft approach to Trump’s proposal to slap tariffs on an additional $100 billion worth of Chinese imports. Trump had already announced tariffs on $53 billon of Chinese imports.

Hatch blamed Beijing for instigating the trade battle by demanding that the U.S. transfer technologies and intellectual property to Chinese businesses as the price for doing business in China.

“It is China’s responsibility to end its technology transfer regime,” he said. “Until it does so, there will be a risk of a continuing cycle of retaliatory tariffs.”

 House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyRepublicans' rendezvous with reality — their plan is to cut Social Security The Social Security 2100 Act is critical for millennials and small business owners House panel releases documents of presidential tax return request before Trump MORE (R-Texas), who also has jurisdiction on trade, has adopted a measured approach as well.

“In enforcing our trade laws, we should always take a targeted approach to address unfair practices while avoiding harm to U.S. workers and job creators,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

Brady’s panel will hold a hearing on April 12 to study how tariffs on steel and aluminum imports will affect the domestic economy. 

Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesThe 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal 5 takeaways from combative Democratic debate GOP senator introduces resolution to formally condemn socialism MORE (R-Mont.) will return Monday from a congressional delegation trip he led to China over the recess where he raised concerns with government officials over what he called the country’s “unfair trade practices.”

Yet, as a member of the Agriculture Committee who represents a state with millions of dollars in wheat and beef exports, Daines also urged the president to take a cautious approach.  

“We must take actions to level the playing field while also working to avoid or mitigate retaliation that would harm Montana’s farmers,” he said Friday.

Farm-state Republicans are some of the biggest GOP critics of Trump’s actions.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsKobach says he's more prepared for 'propaganda' in Senate campaign Pompeo: Senate run 'off the table' Grassley gambles on drug price bill despite GOP doubts MORE (R-Kan.) warned the president against playing a high-stakes game of chicken with a major importer of U.S. agricultural commodities.

He said posturing on trade is playing havoc with people’s livelihoods.

“These are real people, real families. You don’t use them as a playing card,” Roberts told The Kansas City Star.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyWhite House denies exploring payroll tax cut to offset worsening economy Schumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord GOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation MORE (R-Iowa), a member of the Agriculture and Finance Committees, complained earlier this week that farmers and ranchers were taking the brunt of retaliation from China.

Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal Senators introduce bill to prevent border agency from selling personal data MORE (R-N.D.), another member of the Agriculture Committee, said he has stressed to Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueUSDA eases relocation timeline as researchers flee agency The Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? USDA office move may have broken law, watchdog says MORE that “changes to our trade policy need to result in better deals for the U.S., but also avoid retaliatory tariffs on our agriculture exports.”