Lawmakers demand answers from Mnuchin on Trump tariffs

Lawmakers demand answers from Mnuchin on Trump tariffs
© Greg Nash

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinWhite House confirms new trade talks with China Hillicon Valley: Facebook weighs crackdown on anti-vaccine content | Lyft challenges Trump fuel standards rollback | Illinois tries to woo Amazon | New round of China trade talks next week On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week 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 TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration 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 HensarlingThe next two years of federal housing policy could be positive under Mark Calabria Why Ocasio-Cortez should make flood insurance reform a priority Exiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch 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 WatersPrivate insurance plays a critical part in home mortgage ecosystem On The Money: Lawmakers closing in on border deal | Dems build case for Trump tax returns | Trump, Xi won't meet before trade deadline | Waters in talks with Mnuchin for testimony Waters in talks with Mnuchin for testimony on lifting of sanctions on Russian firms 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 WagnerScalise, Wagner plan to introduce discharge petition for abortion bill House Dems unveil initial GOP targets in 2020 GOP scrambles to prevent shutdown after right-wing insurrection MORE (R-Mo.) and French HillJames (French) French HillHere are the lawmakers who will forfeit their salaries during the shutdown Rep. French Hill wins after unexpected challenge Election Day: An hour-by-hour viewer’s guide 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 BarrSchumer urging ex-congressional candidate Amy McGrath to run against McConnell House Dems unveil initial GOP targets in 2020 Poll shows 25 percent view McConnell favorably, lowest among leaders in survey 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 McConnellDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Trump should beware the 'clawback' Congress Juan Williams: America needs radical solutions MORE.

And Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsCongress starts first day of shutdown with modest hope Senate agrees to last-ditch talks, but no clear path over shutdown Pelosi vows Dem help after GOP ‘meltdown’ on spending bills 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.”