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Trade war: GOP Senators are in open rebellion against Trump strategy



Republican senators are breaking ranks to criticise President Trump’s trade war with China, with no end in sight for tariffs levied by Beijing against US produce.

Senator Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, has been among the most vocal GOP critics of the president’s trade policies, which saw the US raise tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports on Friday.

On Tuesday, Grassley took the rare step of openly accusing the president of not listening to concerns he has expressed about the latest escalation of the confrontation between Beijing and Washington.

“I’m not sure if you talk to him face to face, he hears everything you say,” said the senator, who is chairman of the Senate’s finance committee, as quoted by the Washington Post Tuesday.

Grassley also said that the trade war would likely have an influence at the polls.

Trump with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.
AP/Saul Loeb

“It’s going to have some impact on elections, of course,” Grassley said, as quoted by The New York Times. “So far, I haven’t seen farmers abandoning Trump, but it’s going to have some impact.”

Other Republican lawmakers have also warned the president that patience among traditionally Republican-supporting farmers is wearing thin, as senators work with the administration to craft an aid package to farmers.

“I’d say the farm community is right on the edge of having been as supportive as they can be before that begins to turn,” GOP Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri told Bloomberg. “But hopefully the president will come to some conclusion here soon.”

“There’s a lot of concern,” Republican Senator John Cornyn, of Texas, told the Associated Press.

“If this is what it takes to get a good deal, I think people will hang in there, but at some point we’ve got to get it resolved,” Cornyn said. “If this goes on for a long time, everybody realizes it’s playing with a live hand grenade.”

In remarks to the Post, he described Trump’s planned proposals to ease the plight of farmers, for example by cash assistance, as “inadequate.”

According to reports, few farmers reliant on exports to China expected Trump’s trade war with China to last as long as it has. Trump signalled repeatedly that a trade deal between the world’s two biggest economies was close until negotiations abruptly collapsed last week.

“We kept hearing that talks were going well, it sure looked like this was all going to be taken care of soon,” John Heisdorffer, an Iowa farmer and chairman of the American Soybean Association told CNN Tuesday. “There’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of emotions right now for farmers.”

Beijing responded last April to Trump’s first round of tariffs with tariffs of its own targeting American agricultural produce. China is the second-largest export market for US farmers for crops including soybeans and wheat.

The tariff package was widely interpreted as designed to hurt a key bloc of the president’s support, as mid-term elections loomed.

In order to mitigate the worst effects of the tariffs on farmers, Trump last year authorized $12 billion in government assisstance, and told reporters at the White House Tuesday that money from the latest tariffs hike would be used to fund a new round of support.

“Out of the billions of dollars that we’re taking in [from tariffs], a small portion of that will be going to our farmers,” Trump said.

“We’re going to take the highest year — the biggest purchase that China has ever made with our farmers, which is about $15 billion — and do something reciprocal to our farmers.”

Senators have met twice with Vice President Mike Pence in the last week as the White House sought to ease their concerns, and are working with the admnistration to hammer out the details of the relief package.

Though support for the president in rural Republican heartlands has held, Democrats are already eyeing opportunities to take advantage of mounting unease over his trade policies.

“I think there is an opportunity. We have actually done some focus groups in farm country,” Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, told The Hill.

“Farmers were very loyal to Trump and wanted to give him a chance and thought everybody needed to do their fair share, but I think it’s getting different now.”

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