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 McConnellOvernight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties 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 SasseFCC votes to bar use of its funds to purchase Huawei, ZTE equipment Senate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Trump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition 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 RyanHouse Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea Duncan Hunter pleads guilty after changing plea Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden 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 HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals 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 BradyLawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families How centrist Dems learned to stop worrying and love impeachment On The Money: Senate passes first spending package as shutdown looms | Treasury moves to roll back Obama rules on offshore tax deals | Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm 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 DainesBullock drops White House bid, won't run for Senate Senate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Perry replacement moves closer to confirmation despite questions on Ukraine 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 RobertsThe Hill's Morning Report - Intel panel readies to hand off impeachment baton The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' The Hill's Morning Report — House set for Phase 3 of impeachment push 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 GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties Congressional leaders unite to fight for better future for America's children and families 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 HoevenBottom Line The Hill's Morning Report — Schiff: Clear evidence of a quid pro quo Trump steps up GOP charm offensive as impeachment looms MORE (R-N.D.), another member of the Agriculture Committee, said he has stressed to Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerduePlan to lift roadless rule in Alaska's Tongass national forest threatens economy House Democrat asks USDA to halt payouts to Brazilian meatpacker under federal probe From state agriculture departments to Congress: Our farmers need the USMCA 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.”