Peters calls GOP’s tariff inaction ‘mind-blowing’

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    U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) slammed President Donald Trump’s escalating trade war with China on Monday night, noting the harm it’s doing to Michigan’s agriculture industry.

    Peters said on MSNBC host Chris Hayes’ “All In” program that tariffs can be useful and China needs to be held accountable as a trading partner. But he said the Trump administration is acting in an “irresponsible” manner and his actions need to be more specifically targeted.

    U.S. Sen. Gary Peters | Andrew Roth

    “What we’re seeing from the Trump administration are some blanket tariffs that are causing a great deal of hardship, particularly for farmers in Michigan,” Peters said, adding that “there doesn’t seem to be a plan.”

    Michigan’s junior senator, soon facing his first re-election campaign in 2020, specifically pointed to the struggles of the state’s cherry farmers as they contend with subsidized Turkish cherry production — something Trump’s tariffs haven’t addressed.

    Peters’ comments came just hours after Michigan agribusiness leaders expressed their concerns with Trump’s mounting trade war and called for the swift implementation of the proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA), as the Advance reported on Monday.

    Earlier that morning, China implemented $60 billion in retaliatory tariffs on the U.S., after Trump’s escalation late last week in which he raised tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods.

    President Donald J. Trump, Wednesday, March 20, 2019, at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio. | Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead, Flickr

    Peters argued Monday that his Republican colleagues in the GOP-controlled Senate have abdicated their authority to rein in the tariff-happy Trump administration.

    “It’s mind-blowing,” Peters said. “My Republican colleagues do not want to step up. They never want to question President Trump, even though these activities are clearly impacting businesses across our country, impacting farmers.”

    Trump ran on an openly protectionist platform regarding American industries like manufacturing and agriculture, slamming Chinese trade policies as unfair and breaking with free-market-oriented Republican orthodoxy. He has previously called trade wars “good and easy to win.”

    Escalation has continued to mount between the U.S. and China over the course of his presidency, with news outlet Axios reporting Monday morning that anonymous administration officials believe “a trade deal with China isn’t close and that the U.S. could be in for a long trade war.”

    United States Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, senior staff and cabinet members meet with Chinese Vice Premier Liu, Jan. 30, 2019 | Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks, Flickr

    Trump, his aides say, fails to understand that American consumers ultimately pay the tariffs — or taxes — as opposed to China. Axios quotes one aide saying the president believes in tariffs “like theology.”

    For his part, Peters said he believes that tariffs can serve as “a tool in the toolbox” in certain negotiations, but that Trump’s use of them lacks any broader strategy.

    “This is just an uncoordinated plan,” Peters said on MSNBC. “We need to step in, we need to have some backbone here in Congress. To step up and say, ‘What you are doing is hurting our economy.’ Let’s hold the Chinese accountable; let’s hold the Turks accountable. But let’s do it in a smarter fashion that what we’re seeing out of this administration.”

    Nick Manes
    Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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