Trump tariffs put 2020 Democrats in a bind

Democrats competing for the chance to challenge President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech MORE in 2020 are trying to thread the needle when it comes to discussing the U.S. trade war with China.

White House hopefuls are promising to ramp down the economically painful trade war while also vowing to be tough on China.

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In Thursday night's debate, candidate after candidate trashed Trump for a trade policy they called erratic and misguided.

“The president clearly has no strategy,” said South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Buttigieg says he doubts consulting work for insurer led to layoffs Biden narrowly ahead in Iowa as Sanders surges, Warren drops: poll MORE.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro called Trump’s approach to trade “erratic” and “haphazard,” while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll: Buttigieg slips into fourth place as Biden widens lead Yang qualifies for December Democratic debate The media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? MORE (D-Calif.) compared the president’s trade policy to the man behind the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“When you pull back the curtain, it's a really small dude,” she said.

But none of the candidates said they would immediately scrap Trump’s tariffs if they took office. Instead, they pledged to seek a negotiated solution with China — the same thing Trump says is needed to eliminate the tariffs.

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“I would not repeal the tariffs on day one, but I would let the Chinese know that we need to hammer out a deal. Because right now the tariffs are pummeling producers and farmers in Iowa who have absolutely nothing to do with the imbalances that we have with China,” said entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangYang to launch ad on climate change in Iowa Poll: Buttigieg slips into fourth place as Biden widens lead Yang qualifies for December Democratic debate MORE.

Trump has gradually increased trade barriers, particularly with China, in an effort to develop leverage in negotiations.

He struck a deal with Canada and Mexico as well as South Korea after exerting some tariff pressure but thus far has not been able to close a deal with other trade partners such as the European Union and China, the world’s second-largest economy.

In the meantime, he has ratcheted up tariffs, imposing 25 percent import taxes on $250 billion of Chinese goods and a 15 percent tariff on an additional $112 billion earlier this month.

This past week, amid signs of progress, Trump delayed a planned increase in tariff rates from Oct. 1 to Oct. 15. A new round of tariffs on an additional $160 billion is still set for mid-December.

Trump has suggested that China may be waiting out his presidency in hopes of a better deal.

“I am sure they would love to be dealing with a new administration,” he wrote in a Sept. 3 tweet, adding that if he won reelection, a “Deal would get MUCH TOUGHER!”

That has left Democrats scrambling for a way to avoid looking weak on China while promising to reverse course on Trump's trade war, which is shaping up as a political liability for the president heading into his reelection campaign.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Biden narrowly ahead in Iowa as Sanders surges, Warren drops: poll Overnight Defense: Dems unveil impeachment articles against Trump | Saudi military flight students grounded after shooting | Defense bill takes heat from progressives | Pentagon watchdog to probe use of personnel on border MORE (D-Minn.) on Thursday night cited a study showing that the trade war had cost the United States 300,000 jobs.

“What I think we need to do is to go back to the negotiating table. That's what I would do,” she said. “I wouldn't have put all these tariffs in place.”

Buttigieg said tariffs would be part of his strategy to create leverage but added that “it's not about the tariffs.”

“What's going on right now is a president who has reduced the entire China challenge into a question of tariffs, when what we know is that the tariffs are coming down on us more than anybody else and there's a lack of a bigger strategy,” he said.

Castro promised that if he takes office he “would immediately begin to negotiate with China to ratchet down that trade war.”

“We have leverage there,” he said, without saying whether he would nix the tariffs.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Buttigieg says he doubts consulting work for insurer led to layoffs Trump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles MORE (D-Mass.) said she would require potential U.S. trade partners to meet certain labor, environmental and human rights standards.

“Everybody wants access to the American market,” she said when asked about what leverage the U.S. has in trade talks.

“That means that we have the capacity to say right here in America, you want to come sell goods to American consumers? Then you got to raise your standards,” she added.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Buttigieg says he doubts consulting work for insurer led to layoffs Trump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles MORE (I-Vt.) took a similar approach, calling for trade deals that protect workers, while Biden argued that if the U.S. doesn’t set the rules for global trade, China would.

In that vein, Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Shooting in Jersey City leaves multiple people dead, including police officer Schumer to colleagues running for White House: Impeachment comes first MORE (D-N.J.) called for scrapping the trade wars with allies in order to build an alliance against China.

“He's deciding to take on China while at the same time taking on tariff battles with all of our allies,” Booker said. “You literally have him using a national security waiver to put tariffs on Canada.”

“Our strength is multiplied and magnified when we stand with our allies in common cause and common purpose. That's how we beat China,” Booker added.