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Lawmakers demand answers from Mnuchin on Trump tariffs

Lawmakers demand answers from Mnuchin on Trump tariffs
© Greg Nash

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Trump says stimulus deal will happen after election | Holiday spending estimates lowest in four years | Domestic workers saw jobs, hours plummet due to COVID Trump says stimulus deal will happen after election White House hoping for COVID-19 relief deal 'within weeks': spokeswoman 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 TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven 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.

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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 HensarlingLawmakers battle over future of Ex-Im Bank House passes Ex-Im Bank reboot bill opposed by White House, McConnell Has Congress lost the ability or the will to pass a unanimous bipartisan small business bill? 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.

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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 WatersCompanies start responding to pressure to bolster minority representation Democratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Safeguarding US elections by sanctioning Russian sovereign debt 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 WagnerEnergized by polls, House Democrats push deeper into GOP territory Democrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade Republican fears grow over rising Democratic tide MORE (R-Mo.) and French HillJames (French) French HillRepublican fears grow over rising Democratic tide The use and abuse of the IMF in the fight against COVID-19 Lawmakers ask Pelosi, McConnell to diversify coronavirus relief oversight panel 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 BarrAndy BarrReclaiming the American Dream Powell, Mnuchin stress limits of current emergency lending programs McConnell holds 12-point lead over Democratic challenger McGrath: poll 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 McConnellBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Trump blasts Obama speech for Biden as 'fake' after Obama hits Trump's tax payments White House hoping for COVID-19 relief deal 'within weeks': spokeswoman MORE.

And Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsBiden endorses Texas Democratic House candidate Julie Oliver Warren, Porter to headline progressive fundraiser supporting seven swing state candidates The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Yoho apologizes for accosting AOC 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.”