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Trump tests patience of political allies in his approach to trade and tariffs

Don Lee, Noah Bierman and Jennifer Haberkorn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- With a growing economy at his back and little resistance from Republicans, President Donald Trump has been free to impose tariffs on America's trading partners with few political repercussions.

Yet his protectionist approach -- particularly his heavy-handed tactics with China, as well as with traditional allies Canada and the European Union -- presents a high-stakes gamble for him and other Republicans in the 2020 elections.

So far the president has been able to keep skeptical Republicans from rebelling by stoking his voting base and promising to subsidize soybean farmers and others hit hard by the trade conflict with China.

And Trump has bipartisan support in Congress to try to compel Beijing to change or halt policies that many in Washington see as endangering U.S. economic and security interests.

But with new tariff deadlines looming as early as Saturday, the president is testing the patience of some of his staunchest allies in Congress, many of whom have long billed themselves as opponents of trade barriers and skeptics of government subsidies meant to alter the market.

Although Trump portrays tariffs as something paid by foreign countries -- and seems to believe it -- Republican elected officials generally accept the evidence that U.S. consumers bear most of the cost of higher taxes on imported goods.

 

"We are growing tired and frustrated of hearing the up-and-down, back-and-forth of everything as it relates to China," said Scott Henry, a third-generation Iowa farmer and spokesman for Farmers for Free Trade, a nonprofit advocacy group. "We just want to see something get done."

Unlike Trump, who recently called tariffs "the greatest negotiating tool in the history of our country," many Republican lawmakers see them as a tool to be used briefly if at all.

"I completely agree with what President Trump is trying to do -- get China to abide by the rules -- but this is high-stakes poker and I hope we win," said Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, which depends heavily on farming and manufacturing industries that could see significant impacts from tariffs.

A quick resolution appeared unlikely after talks broke down Friday and Trump hiked tariffs on $200 billion of imported goods on China. Beijing retaliated Monday by vowing to increase tariffs on $60 billion of American-made goods as of June 1.

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