Senator Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving member of the United States Senate and a key Republican establishment ally for President Donald Trump, has called the administration’s trade war a disaster for American businesses and consumers. Hatch joins a growing list of prominent Republican leaders who have publicly criticized President Trump’s protectionist trade agenda and want tariffs rescinded as soon as possible.
Orrin Hatch backs legislation to restrict Trump
With global tariffs imposed or threatened on $500 billion in goods, Utah’s Senator Orrin Hatch took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to pledge his support for any legislative attempt to curb President Trump’s protectionist trade war agenda.
“If the administration continues forward with its misguided and reckless reliance on tariffs,” he said. “I will work to advance trade legislation to curtail presidential trade authority. I am discussing legislative options with colleagues both on and off the Finance Committee and I will continue to do so.”
Explaining his motivation for the move, Hatch said, “These actions put American families and businesses at risk and threaten to undermine the success of tax reform.”
Hatch make it clear that his preference was to work with the President to end the trade war, but the fact that one of Trump’s most ardent Congressional supporters is willing to take such a public stand against one of his pet policies will be sounding alarm bells in the White House.
Growing Republican concerns about Trump’s trade policy
Although they has not garnered much national attention, Orrin Hatch’s attack is just one of many criticizms of administration trade policy by top Republicans in recent weeks. Concern is especially rife among Republican governors, who often preside over state economies with large agricultural, automotive, and natural resource industries.
On June 26th, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas issued a letter to Trump, praising the leadership of his fellow Republican, but making it clear he thought Trump’s trade policy was a disaster.
“Our country’s steel and aluminum workers are a vital part of the national workforce, and creating jobs in that industry must be a top priority,” he wrote. “But attempting to protect these jobs through the new tariffs could jeopardize the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Texans and other Americans employed in the oil and gas industry.”
Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama, also Republican, slammed the administration trade policy in a June 18th statement, expressing concern especially for the 57,000 Alabamians who work in the automotive sector.
“Import tariffs, and any retaliatory tariffs on American made goods, will harm Alabama, the companies that have invested billions of dollars in our state, and the thousands of households, which are dependent upon those companies for a good-paying job,” she said. “I strongly oppose any efforts that may harm those companies that employ thousands of Alabamians and contribute billions to our economy.”
Republican governors who lack the courage to publicly stand up to Trump, like Nebraska’s Pete Ricketts, are nevertheless getting an earful of complaints about the escalating trade war. During a recent visit to a Nebraska dairy producer, Ricketts was told by the operations director that a 10 or 20 percent tariff “would kill us; it would take us out of the picture.” Ricketts quickly changed the subject to his upcoming trade mission to Mexico.
The negative impact of tariffs on state economies is on the agenda at today’s National Governors Association meeting in Santa Fe. Depending on the political calculus they make, more Republican governors may soon be expressing anti-protectionist, anti-trade-war sentiments.
The not-so-Republican Republican
Although perceived to be popular with his base, Trump’s protectionist agenda flies in the face of decades of settled Republican doctrine. This is putting Republican establishment figures like Orrin Hatch in a bind: wanting to support their President but unable to stomach his policies.
Free trade is only one of a series of traditional Republican values that the President has been undermining in recent months. Although the party is trying its best to make supportive noises, sometimes the mask slips.
On Independence Day, at the height of the recent child-seperation controversy, the DC Republican party sent out an email to its members quoting Ronald Reagan and (apparently) refuting the current Oval Office occupant’s stance on immigration.
And only this week Newt Gingrich referred to Trump’s refusal to back the findings of American intelligence agencies as, “the most serious mistake of his presidency.”
Gingrich did not elaborate on what he thought the other mistakes were, but one might be Trump’s tweet in March in which he said “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”
When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 2, 2018