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 McConnellHouse Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines Has Trump beaten the system? 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 SasseBen SasseSasse calls China's Xi a 'coward' after Apple Daily arrest Defunct newspaper's senior editor arrested in Hong Kong Murkowski: Trump has 'threatened to do a lot' to those who stand up to him 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 RyanTrump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP's future in a direct-mail piece Cutting critical family support won't solve the labor crisis Juan Williams: Trump's GOP descends into farce 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 HatchDrug prices are declining amid inflation fears The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30 Financial market transactions should not be taxed or restricted 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 focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change GOP, business groups snipe at Biden restaurant remarks Top Democrat offers bill to overhaul tax break for business owners 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 DainesSenate committee advances bipartisan energy infrastructure bill  Hillicon Valley: Lina Khan faces major FTC test | Amazon calls for her recusal | Warren taps commodities watchdog to probe Google Senators propose bill to help private sector defend against hackers 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 RobertsBob Dole, Pat Roberts endorse Kansas AG Derek Schmidt for governor Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain 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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi considers adding GOP voices to Jan. 6 panel Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa Six takeaways: What the FEC reports tell us about the midterm elections 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 HoevenGOP senators urge Biden to keep Trump-era border restrictions A plan to address the growing orphaned wells crisis Lobbying world MORE (R-N.D.), another member of the Agriculture Committee, said he has stressed to Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueSonny PerdueOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court rules that pipeline can seize land from New Jersey | Study: EPA underestimated methane emissions from oil and gas development | Kevin McCarthy sets up task forces on climate, other issues The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Georgia election day is finally here; Trump hopes Pence 'comes through for us' to overturn results Civil war between MAGA, GOP establishment could hand Dems total control 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.”