This past weekend, the Des Moines Register ran a striking headline on its front page: “China tariffs on U.S. soybeans could cost Iowa farmers up to $624 million.” There have been a series of related headlines in much of the country as businesses start to feel the real-world effects of Donald Trump’s policy on tariffs.
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank went to yesterday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who heard from the panel’s Republican members about the consequences of the president’s so-called “trade war.”
“Corn, wheat, beef and pork are all suffering market price declines … due to current trade policies,” complained Sen. John Thune (S.D.). “With every passing day, the United States loses market share to other countries.” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) said “we watched the soybean market start to collapse” because of trade-war concerns.
Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) warned about steel and auto producers in Ohio, “hit harder than any other state by the Canadian retaliatory tariffs.” From Pennsylvania, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey cautioned that Kraft-Heinz may move its ketchup production to Canada to avoid retaliatory tariffs.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) put in a plea over Coca-Cola’s rising aluminum can costs. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah warned that contracts have dried up for a steel fabricator in his state because of the tariffs, and “multibillion-dollar investments for new manufacturing plants that employ thousands of workers are also being put at risk.”
While it’s striking enough to see some prominent Trump allies on Capitol Hill complain about the adverse effects of Trump’s agenda, it’s just as amazing to consider the administration’s response.
Because at least for now, the president and his team are basically just asking everyone to trust them – as if this will all work out in the end.
Ross, for example, shrugged off senators’ concerns yesterday, and when NBC News’ Chuck Todd asked Kellyanne Conway on “Meet the Press” the other day about the prospect of political troubles for the White House in the Midwest, she argued, “These farmers, many of them are very supportive of President Trump because they like his policies when it comes to the tax cuts, the deregulation.”
Trump himself has conceded his plan may cause “pain” for some Americans, but he believes they’re willing to take one for the team. “I tell you, our farmers are great patriots. These are great patriots,” the president said in April. “They understand that they’re doing this for the country.”
In context, “this” appeared to mean “putting their business and livelihood” in jeopardy, confident that the president’s plan will eventually pay off.
A Washington Post report noted last week that the president “is making a gamble. If he does end up getting China to concede on big issues … many will probably say it was worth it. But for the farmer or the small auto parts manufacturer that may have a terrible year or go out of business during the tariff battle, it probably won’t feel worth it.”
Many of those likely to struggle backed Trump in 2016, confident in his competence. It’s hard not to wonder how many of them are questioning whether they made the right call.