Trump tariffs put 2020 Democrats in a bind

Democrats competing for the chance to challenge President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP congressman slams Trump over report that U.S. bombed former anti-ISIS coalition headquarters US to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump says lawmakers should censure Schiff 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.

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 ButtigiegButtigieg tweeted support for 'Medicare for All' in 2018 Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Democrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate MORE.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro called Trump’s approach to trade “erratic” and “haphazard,” while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets Democrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate 2020 Democrats recognize Pronouns Day 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.

“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 YangHillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets Saagar Enjeti: No question, Andrew Yang won Ohio debate Third-quarter fundraising sets Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg apart 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 KlobucharHillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets Progressive action group defends Warren over dodging of 'Medicare for all' questions The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump seeks distance from Syria crisis 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 WarrenButtigieg tweeted support for 'Medicare for All' in 2018 Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Hillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets 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 SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Democrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate Krystal Ball on Sanders debate performance: 'He absolutely hit it out of the park' 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 Booker2020 Democrats recognize Pronouns Day Third-quarter fundraising sets Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg apart The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump seeks distance from Syria crisis 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.