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 McConnellOn The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Mellman: Why does the GOP persist? Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight 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 Sasse5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions 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 vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism Anti-Defamation League calls on House leaders to censure Steve King over white supremacy comments 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 HatchLive coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Trump praises RNC chairwoman after she criticizes her uncle Mitt Romney Romney sworn in as senator 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 BradyTrump on declaring national emergency: 'Not going to do it so fast' Dems look to chip away at Trump tax reform law House approves new Dem rules package 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 DainesOvernight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Health Care: Dem chair seeks CBO report on single-payer | Democrats demand answers on Trump short-term insurance plans | Drugmaker Eli Lilly to publish drug list prices 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 RobertsBudowsky: Warning to Senate Republicans The Hill's Morning Report — Negotiations crumble as shutdown enters day 17 Pompeo seen as top recruit for Kansas Senate seat 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 GrassleyThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government Five things to watch during Barr’s confirmation hearing McConnell rebukes Steve King over white nationalist comments 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 HoevenDems struggling to help low-wage contractors harmed by shutdown Trump to address nation on wall Here are the lawmakers who will forfeit their salaries during the shutdown MORE (R-N.D.), another member of the Agriculture Committee, said he has stressed to Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueFederal workers sue Trump administration over shutdown, allege work without pay violates 13th Amendment USDA extends deadline for farmers hurt by tariffs to seek aid Food stamp benefits will continue in February despite shutdown: USDA 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.”