President Donald Trump’s decision to follow through on steel and aluminum tariffs against some of the United States’ closest allies puts a series of vulnerable Republicans at considerable risk, leading some of those candidates to caution the President against following through with the trade talk.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters that a 25% tariff on imported steel and 10% on imported aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union will take effect on Friday.
Mexico announced in a statement Thursday it would retaliate against the US by imposing “equivalent measures” on products such as “flat steel, lamps, pork and numerous produce items until the US eliminates the imposed tariffs.”
Some Republicans are worried. Party operatives told CNN Thursday that they are fretting the ramifications of more trade talk, worried that those countries could respond by targeting key US exports, many of which come from districts that could decide the balance of the House in November.
“Trade is an area where President Trump’s thinking and policy differs profoundly from most other Republicans,” said longtime Republican operative Michael Steel.
“I think there are real worries that a trade war could undercut the strong impact tax reform has had on jobs and the economy, so you’ll see Republicans across the country make it very, very clear that they support expanded American trade and the jobs that come with it - particularly in states and Congressional Districts that would be hardest hit.”
Here’s what two Republicans in those districts are saying:
- Rep. David Valadao, who represents the agricultural heart of California: “Agriculture drives the American economy and is the backbone of the Central Valley’s economy,” Valadao said in response to Thursday’s news. “Proposed tariffs seriously jeopardize our farmers’ access to export markets, which account for roughly twenty percent of their production.” (In an interview with CNN earlier this week, Valadao said farmers “would rather have no change than any change” and that Trump pushes “a little harder than what some people are comfortable with.”)
- Jim Hagedorn is of two Republicans running to represent Minnesota’s 1st Congressional district, home to Martin County, Minnesota, the self-proclaimed “Bacon Capitol of the USA.” He told CNN on Thursday, “I trust that President Trump and his trade negotiators understand the critical correlation between expanding global markets for US businesses, especially farmers agri-businesses, and a strong economy for those of us who reside in rural America.”
Although tough talk on trade animated Trump’s 2016 campaign, it has also been one area where Republicans, especially those with heavily agricultural states or districts, have broken with him.
- “This is dumb,” Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, an outspoken opponent to Trump’s trade talk, bluntly said on Thursday. “We’ve been down this road before—blanket protectionism is a big part of why America had a Great Depression.”
Those fears are both policy and politically focused, too. Republicans have maintained a dominance in rural America for years, but some top Republicans worry that making moves that hurt farmers and growers could have disastrous political implications for Republicans.
As CNN analyst Ron Brownstein wrote earlier this year, Trump’s trade rhetoric “threatens to light a bonfire directly beneath the Republican Party’s last firewall against potentially significant losses in the 2018 midterm elections.”