Trump’s tar­iffs could be trou­ble

Ru­ral ar­eas could turn on GOP in midterm elec­tions

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - People On The Move - By Kevin Freking and Nicholas K. Geran­ios As­so­ci­ated Press

SPANGLE, Wash. — In the aptly named Har­vester Res­tau­rant, wheat farmer Roy Dube makes clear he’s no fan of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s trade pol­icy.

“We get him elected into of­fice and he pulls us out of trade agree­ments,” Dube said last week as lo­cal farm­ers gath­ered to hear Demo­cratic House can­di­date Lisa Brown.

Dube says China is buy­ing less wheat from east­ern Wash­ing­ton farm­ers and Trump’s poli­cies have opened the door for Aus­tralia and Canada to wres­tle away busi­ness. His frus­tra­tion ex­tends to his con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Rep. Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers, who is the high­est-rank­ing Repub­li­can woman in the House and run­ning for an eighth term.

“I’m con­cerned that Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers didn’t put up more re­sis­tance,” Dube said.

The U.S. tar­iffs on agri­cul­ture prod­ucts, sown by Trump, have grown into an elec­tion-year threat to Repub­li­cans in ru­ral dis­tricts that are heav­ily re­liant on ex­ports for their econ­omy. With the liveli­hoods of farm­ers at risk, op­po­si­tion to the tar­iffs could make a dif­fer­ence in some races and help de­ter­mine which party takes con­trol of Congress.

Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers has made it clear she op­poses the pres­i­dent’s ac­tions on tar­iffs, but so far, the Repub­li­can-con­trolled House has not taken up leg­is­la­tion to block them.

“My op­po­nent, though she would say she’s con­cerned and talk­ing to the ad­min­is­tra­tion about these is­sues, she’s still mostly a cheer­leader for the pres­i­dent,” said Brown, a for­mer state leg­is­la­tor.

Fac­ing what ap­pears to be the tight­est re-elec­tion race of her ca­reer, Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers is em­pha­siz­ing that she has en­cour­aged the pres­i­dent to “move from tar­iffs to agree­ment.”

“I have made it very clear that I don’t sup­port the across-the-board tar­iffs, Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers, R-Wash., shakes hands as she walks in the Fourth of July Pa­rade in John­son, Wash.

that we should take a more tar­geted ap­proach,” she told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Clues that the pres­i­dent’s trade poli­cies will play a role in the Novem­ber midterm elec­tions can be seen in Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Sonny Per­due’s travel sched­ule. Over the past few months, he’s been to East­ern Wash­ing­ton to join Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers in meet­ing with farm­ers. He’s also been to Cal­i­for­nia’s Cen­tral Val­ley to meet with farm­ers in the dis­tricts of Repub­li­can Reps. Jeff Den­ham and David Val­adao. He also went to Iowa, where Repub­li­can Reps. David Young and Rod Blum are both in close races.

J. Read Smith, a rancher near St. John, Wash., said he shares Trump’s goal of seek­ing a level play­ing field in trade.

“But an­tag­o­niz­ing our trad­ing part­ners is not the way to do it,” said Smith, who em­pha­sized that he is not a Demo­crat. “I’m an Amer­i­can.”

Aaron Flans­burg, who runs a diver­si­fied farm near Pull­man, Wash., said he’s skep­ti­cal the tar­iffs will change the way most farm­ers vote.

“Farm­ers of­ten vote for Repub­li­cans,” Flans­burg said. “Whether that will change, I have my doubts.”

Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers said it’s her sense that vot­ers are will­ing to give the pres­i­dent time to ne­go­ti­ate bet­ter agree­ments.

“Yes, there’s a lot of un­cer­tainty. There’s a sense that we need to get these trade agree­ments into place as soon as pos­si­ble, but there’s also a recog­ni­tion that for too long, Amer­ica has not taken ac­tion, es­pe­cially against China,” she said.

The United States is sched­uled to slap tar­iffs on $200 bil­lion in Chi­nese im­ports Mon­day, adding to the more than $50 bil­lion worth that al­ready face U.S. im­port taxes.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion also im­posed a 25

per­cent tar­iff on im­ported steel and a 10 per­cent tar­iff on im­ported alu­minum that in­cluded im­ports from the Euro­pean Union, Canada and Mex­ico — and just about ev­ery­one else — in the name of na­tional se­cu­rity.

Those tar­iffs also drew re­tal­i­a­tion. For ex­am­ple, the EU tar­geted bour­bon, a key in­dus­try in Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell’s home state of Ken­tucky, where Repub­li­can Rep. Andy Barr and Demo­cratic chal­lenger Amy McGrath are bat­tling in a close elec­tion.

Over­all, about 6 in 10 Amer­i­cans dis­ap­prove of how the pres­i­dent is han­dling trade ne­go­ti­a­tions with other coun­tries.

Farm groups have tes­ti­fied in con­gres­sional hear­ings that re­tal­ia­tory tar­iffs in­crease the cost of their prod­ucts for cus­tomers abroad, giv­ing for­eign com­peti­tors an edge.

“The cur­rent tar­iffs, con­tin­u­ing back-and-forth re­tal­ia­tory ac­tions and trade

un­cer­tain­ties are hit­ting Amer­i­can agri­cul­ture from all sides and are caus­ing us to lose our mar­kets. Once you lose a mar­ket, it is re­ally tough to get it back,” said Kevin Paap, pres­i­dent of the Min­nesota Farm Bureau.

Rep. Ben Ray Lu­jan, who is over­see­ing Demo­cratic ef­forts in House races, pointed to Iowa as a state where he be­lieves the tar­iffs could back­fire. He said pri­mary turnout was up, in part be­cause small fam­ily farm­ers and the busi­nesses they buy from are wor­ried. “I re­ally be­lieve that in those dis­tricts, you’ll see peo­ple come for­ward and hold ev­ery­one ac­count­able not stand­ing up for them,” Lu­jan said.

GOP law­mak­ers from Iowa, in­clud­ing Young and Blum, signed onto a let­ter call­ing on the pres­i­dent to act quickly to save ru­ral economies. Blum also wrote Trump sep­a­rately urg­ing him to “con­sider the con­se­quences tar­iffs have on Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ers.”

When the pres­i­dent vis­ited Blum’s district a few days later, he thanked him for his “po­lit­i­cal courage” on trade.

“You’ve taken some heat for it in the short term, but in the long run, the farm­ers, the man­u­fac­tur­ers, the em­ploy­ers are all go­ing to be bet­ter off,” Blum told the pres­i­dent.

His Demo­cratic chal­lenger, Abby Finke­nauer, has seized on that thank you.

“There is no way he should stand there and thank the ad­min­is­tra­tion for throw­ing the liveli­hoods of Iowans in flux,” Finke­nauer said.

Repub­li­cans are putting their faith in the econ­omy.

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said that he per­son­ally views tar­iffs as dam­ag­ing in the long term but that it’s not an is­sue that con­stituents bring up.

“As long as the econ­omy over­all is do­ing well, it’s hard to see los­ing on tar­iff is­sues,” Cole said.

TED S. WAR­REN/AP

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