Lawmakers demand answers from Mnuchin on Trump tariffs

Lawmakers demand answers from Mnuchin on Trump tariffs
© Greg Nash

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner Mnuchin5 things to know about Trump's escalating trade war with China On The Money: Trump signs first 2019 'minibus' spending package | Mueller probing transactions by Russian organizers of Trump Tower meeting | Stocks brush off trade fears On The Money: Cohen reportedly questioned over Trump dealings with Russia | Trump hails economy | Tells workers to 'start looking' if they want a better job | Internal poll shows tax law backfiring on GOP MORE on Thursday drew fire from a bipartisan group of House lawmakers concerned with severe economic damage caused by trade battles with China and key U.S. allies.

Lawmakers warned Mnuchin that President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE’s tariffs on steel, aluminum and Chinese goods — coupled with the retaliations they spurred — could cost businesses in their districts hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue.

Republicans and Democrats were largely united in voicing concern over the Trump administration’s trade policy days after the president unveiled planned tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Mnuchin told the House Financial Services Committee that Trump was taking essential steps to curb Chinese trade violations and that the administration was paying close attention to the tariffs’ impact on U.S. businesses.

But that did little to assuage the fears of lawmakers who pleaded with Mnuchin for clarity on the administration’s goals and timeline for action.

“Not only do tariffs harm American consumers, they harm many American employers and American workers,” said Rep. Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingMidterms to shake up top posts on House finance panel Kavanaugh hires attorney amid sexual assault allegations: report Did Congress just settle for less than best plan to reform housing finance? MORE (R-Texas), the panel’s chairman. “I appreciate the words but I am concerned about the deeds.”

Hensarling said Trump and his economic team were responsible for “an economic miracle” of low unemployment and strong growth, but warned that such advances could be wiped out if tensions with China escalate to an ongoing trade war.

“If we find ourselves mired in a full-fledged global trade war with no end in sight, all of the economic gains that he has helped bring us may well be lost,” Hensarling said.

Lawmakers have grown increasingly worried about Trump’s protectionist trade policy amid rising tensions between the U.S. and key economic partners.

Trump has imposed tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese imports, along with 25 percent and 10 percent levies on imported steel and aluminum, respectively. The president is set to impose tariffs on another $16 billion worth of Chinese goods within weeks, and another $200 billion of imports within the next few months.

China has fought back with reciprocal tariffs on U.S. exports, targeting agricultural and manufactured goods critical to the American economy. The European Union (EU), Canada, Mexico and several other nations have also imposed retaliatory measures in response to the steel and aluminum tariffs, further squeezing U.S. goods with their own levies.

Republicans have denounced the tariffs and Trump’s refusal to grant U.S. allies waivers from the levies on steel and aluminum. Lawmakers have charged his policies with being unhelpful and harmful in their attempt to address legitimate concerns with China, though they have not acted on legislation to restrain Trump’s tariffs.

Lawmakers across party lines pressed Mnuchin on what tangible changes the administration needs to see before lifting tariffs, and how it plans to address the economic harm they would do U.S. businesses.

“It seems like things are only going to get worse,” said Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersKavanaugh fight roils an already ugly political climate Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada On The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills MORE (D-Calif.), the panel’s top Democrat. “The Trump administration appears to be flying by the seat of its pants with no plan to address the possibility of a recession, the high prices consumers will pay and the resulting losses of millions of American jobs.”

Several lawmakers cited businesses in their district and state would suffer because of Trump’s trade policy or the retaliation to it.

Reps. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerCongress should provide parents an opportunity to care for newborn and adopted children Paid family leave could give new parents a much-needed lifeline Vulnerable Republicans include several up-and-coming GOP leaders MORE (R-Mo.) and French HillJames (French) French HillThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump questions Kavanaugh accuser's account | Accuser may testify Thursday | Midterm blame game begins The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh, accuser say they’re prepared to testify Lawmakers demand answers from Mnuchin on Trump tariffs MORE (Ark.) said soybean growers back home would lose millions of dollars in lost sales to China.

Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) said tariffs on aluminum and steel parts would drastically raise costs for manufacturers in his state and harm Michigan’s close trade ties with Canada.

Kentucky Rep. Andy BarrGarland (Andy) Hale BarrIt's time for the Fed to be made accountable for its actions GOP super PAC ad targets McGrath as ‘Pelosi liberal’ in Kentucky It’s possible to protect national security without jeopardizing the economy MORE (R) said the tariffs would harm his state’s bourbon industry, which has been targeted in part to put pressure on another state lawmaker: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Kavanaugh accuser set to testify Thursday McConnell told Trump criticism of Kavanaugh accuser isn't helpful: report MORE.

And Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsDems gain momentum 50 days before midterms GOP: The economy will shield us from blue wave Republicans have spent .5 million at Trump properties since he took office: report MORE (R-Texas), who owns a car dealership, expressed concerns about the rising costs of critical auto parts.

Mnuchin said Trump was “very focused” on securing “free and fair trade,” but did not specify what China and other nations could do to accomplish that goal. He insisted that he’d pay close attention how the administration’s trade policy impacted U.S. industries, but played down the potential harm the tariffs would cause.

“We should be doing things that make sure our companies can compete fairly in the export market,” Mnuchin said. “They’ve unfairly targeted specific markets and that’s not coincidental.”