‘This is dumb’: Ben Sasse, other lawmakers criticize move to impose tariffs on allies

‘This is dumb’: Ben Sasse, other lawmakers criticize move to impose tariffs on allies
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse (World-Herald News Service)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., blasted the Trump administration’s move Thursday to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe, Mexico and Canada.

“This is dumb,” Sasse said in a press release. “Europe, Canada, and Mexico are not China, and you don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents. We’ve been down this road before — blanket protectionism is a big part of why America had a Great Depression. ‘Make America Great Again’ shouldn’t mean ‘Make America 1929 Again.’”

Sasse has been an outspoken critic of the administration’s approach to trade, but he’s hardly the only GOP lawmaker to have taken issue with these kinds of tariffs.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., called on Trump to avoid “unnecessary trade wars.”

“Imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum will very likely force Americans to pay higher prices for everyday products at the store,” Bacon said. “…This action could also cause retaliation on American goods, which will only impact American consumers.”

Farm state officials, including those in Nebraska and Iowa, have expressed particular concern because much of U.S. agriculture depends on overseas markets. That makes the sector a ripe target for retaliation.

“Retaliation efforts targeting American agriculture exports directly hurts our nation’s farmers,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said of “blanket tariffs” that she said will further complicate trade relations with close allies.

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., called for “more narrowly targeted policies applied on a case by case basis.”

“Our agricultural producers have told me repeatedly – and I have continually expressed to the administration – how they depend on these markets and would be seriously injured by retaliation,” he said.

Indeed, Europe and Mexico pledged to retaliate quickly against Thursday’s move., exacerbating trans-Atlantic and North American trade tensions.

Mexico said it would penalize U.S. imports, including pork bellies, apples, grapes, cheeses and flat steel.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, noted in a statement Thursday that Trump believes in brinkmanship.

“That’s unnerving without a doubt, but there’s a chance it works,” Grassley said. “I’ve warned the president about the potential danger these tariffs pose to agriculture. I think his actions are part of his larger, long-term strategy to secure a stronger seat at the negotiating table. Only time will tell how this move ultimately impacts American trade.”

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb, said: “The stakes are high and the risk is real, especially for Nebraska agriculture — but so is doing nothing. America must seek fairer trade deals, and hopefully, we can move past this period of uncertainty quickly.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the tariffs would be 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, and go into effect on Friday, as the administration followed through on the penalties after earlier granting exemptions for allies to buy time for negotiations.

President Donald Trump had announced the tariffs in March, citing national security concerns.

The European Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that Trump’s decision amounted to trade protectionism and that Europe would respond with countermeasures.

Ross told reporters that talks with Canada and Mexico over revising the North American Free Trade Agreement were “taking longer than we had hoped.” Talks with Europe had “made some progress” but not enough for additional exemptions, he said in a conference call from Paris.

On NAFTA, Ross said there was “no longer a very precise date when they may be concluded and therefore (Canada and Mexico) were added into the list of those who will bear tariffs.”

Brazil, Argentina and Australia have agreed to limit steel shipments to the U.S. in exchange for being spared the tariffs, the Commerce Department said. Tariffs will remain on imports from Japan.

Fears of a global trade war are already weighing on investor confidence. European officials argue that tit-for-tat tariffs will hurt growth on both sides of the Atlantic, and Canada said before the announcement that it would respond in kind.

“Canada considers it frankly absurd that we would in any way be considered to be a national security threat to the United States,” Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said before the tariffs were announced. 

“The government is absolutely prepared to and will defend Canadian industries and Canadian jobs. We will respond appropriately.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.