Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) sided with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and declared Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” his support for a bill nullifying President Donald Trump’s newly imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.
The chief executive imposed the new levies last week in an effort to protect American industries and jobs, and to promote fairer trade on the international markets.
Trump’s tariffs were blistered by U.S. trading partners, free trade advocates and Republican lawmakers. Flake aggressively pushed for such legislation to block Trump from imposing the tariffs. Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said that he would support Flake’s bill even though he doubted it would survive a presidential veto.
“I would, but I doubt it would have any chance of passing, and even if it passed, that we’d have the votes to override the veto,” Johnson said when asked if he’d support the bill.
Johnson warned that Trump’s tariffs could result in “retaliatory actions” from U.S. trading partners while injecting “uncertainty” into an economy that had been booming during Trump’s presidency and benefiting from the tax cuts included in the chief executive’s tax reform law, approved last December.
“Confidence had really been building. We stopped increasing the regulatory burden and actually started reducing the regulatory burden. We made American businesses more competitive. We gave real tax cuts to Wisconsinites and Americans,” Johnson said. “There is a really growing level of optimism because we were returning certainty to the American and Wisconsin economy.”
“And, you know, the talk of canceling NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and now imposing these steel tariffs have just interjected uncertainty into the economy where it just wasn’t necessary,” Johnson added.
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Johnson said he was “really concerned” that Trump’s announcement would be counterproductive because it “injects uncertainty into an economy that was really doing quite well.”
The Wisconsin senator’s backing for the Flake measure is unexpected, as Johnson, a solid conservative from the business community, has often been a vocal supporter of most of the Trump agenda. Flake, however, is among Trump’s severest critics and is paying a political price for it in unpopularity back in Arizona, which the president carried decisively in 2016.
Trump, however, maintains that he is fulfilling his campaign promises to protect American workers and national security interests while pushing for fairer trade deals for U.S. industries. The president also suggested that he could nix the tariffs for some nations if they could fairly renegotiate trade deals.
The president earned a rare show of support for his tariffs from one of the most liberal members of Congress, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
“I am not afraid of tariffs. I think tariffs are one part of that trade policy. It’s not the only part. There are other parts of trade policy,” Warren said. “I want to see a trade policy that puts American workers first, puts American small businesses first, puts American consumers first.”
“I think that our trade deals have been negotiated for a very, very long time now to benefit large, multinational corporations, not to benefit American workers,” Warren added. “Not to benefit America’s small businesses, and often not even to benefit American consumers.”