In a loud, bipartisan message from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and across the landscape of American business and agriculture, President Donald Trump is facing sharp questions about his tariffs on China, Mexico, Canada, and Europe, as businesses and farmers say they’re being economically harmed by the President’s actions on trade.
In hearings this week in Congress and at the Commerce Department, in speeches on the floors of the House and Senate, and in news conferences outside the Capitol, the message has been simple – the Trump Tariffs are hurting, and more won’t help.
Sporting signs that said, “Say No to the Car tax,” auto workers rallied outside the Capitol on Thursday morning as Commerce Department officials were listening to car industry officials denounce the idea of a new tariff threatened by President Trump on imported cars from Europe.
“The opposition is widespread and deep, because the consequences are alarming,” said Jennifer Thomas, with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
Thomas’ testimony was echoed by a series of other industry groups, all arguing that a new tariff on imported autos and auto parts would only hurt U.S. consumers.
“The tariffs will lead to higher vehicles prices for all automakers, foreign and domestic,” said Matt Blunt, the former Governor of Missouri, now with the American Automotive Policy Council.
“Tariffs on parts will also increases cost on other things made in America,” said Linda Dempsey of the National Association of Manufacturers.
On Capitol Hill, 149 lawmakers signed a letter to the Commerce Secretary opposing the use of a special ‘national security’ tariff procedure.
“We do not believe that imports of automobiles and automotive parts pose a national security threat,” read the letter, spearheaded by Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN). “Price increases from tariffs, quotas, and other trade restrictions will ultimately be borne by American families in the form of higher vehicle prices.”
A day earlier, Walorski had joined members in both parties at a House hearing to vent their frustration at how earlier tariffs levied by the Trump Administration were hurting U.S. farmers back home.
“We are concerned with the administration’s decision to place tariff’s on our trading partners,” said Russell Boening, the head of the Texas Farm Bureau, who said one-quarter of Texas agriculture depends on exports.
“The current tariffs, the continuing back-and-forth retaliatory actions, and trade uncertainties are hitting American agriculture from all sides,” said Kevin Papp, the President of the Minnesota Farm Bureau.
“Once you lose a market, it’s really hard to get it back,” Papp added, who grows corn and soybeans on his family farm.
“Farmers are dealing with big shifts in the commodity markets because of trade and tariff threats,” said Scott VanderWal, who heads the South Dakota Farm Bureau.
The stories of concerns on the farm – and in other every day businesses – are echoed almost daily by lawmakers in both parties, who worry that President Trump’s drive to level the trade playing field is going to turn into a trade war.
“If this starts to spiral out of control, business will pull back,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who has been an especially sharp critic of the President’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and Europe.
Rattling off examples of businesses back home who are feeling the pinch from either the higher tariffs – or retaliatory tariffs by other nations – has become almost a daily experience on Capitol Hill.
“We’re in the midst of a full-blown trade war,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “If it gets out of control, it can take us into an economic recession.”
It has led Democrats to hammer on the issue more in recent weeks, convinced that rural voters with ties to agriculture might not be as thrilled to vote Republican in the fall elections for Congress.
At the White House, there has been no sign that President Trump is going to back off of his push on trade, as he looks at tariffs as leverage to force other countries to lower their own trade barriers.
But so far, the only response from other countries has been retaliatory tariffs – and those are clearly being felt across the U.S., especially in agriculture.
“There have been very few issues in my career as a farmer that have caused me to lose sleep,” said Michelle Erickson-Jones, with the Montana Grain Growers Association.
“But these tariffs are one of them.”