'It's an incoherent policy': Republicans blast Trump's coming aid of farmers caught up in his trade war, but largely look the other way

  • The Trump administration wants to give a $US12 billion bailout to farmers getting hit by retaliatory trade policies resulting from the president’s tariffs.
  • Republican lawmakers, while traditionally against tariffs as a trading tactic, brushed aside the idea of a massive bailout of the agricultural industry.
  • Some of President Donald Trump’s most prominent GOP critics lashed out at the idea.

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration acknowledged the shortcomings of its heavy-handed policy of imposing tariffs on a number of goods and products, with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announcing that a $US12 billion bailout would be on the way for farmers getting pummelled in the trade war.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans have voiced their opposition to Trump’s tariffs for the better part of the last year, often times by berating Cabinet members and other administration officials during congressional hearings – or in the form of strongly-worded letters, speeches, and television appearances.

The recent rebukes, while not on any policy level that would limit executive authority, have gotten to Trump, who unloaded on critical Republicans Wednesday morning.

“Every time I see a weak politician asking to stop Trade talks or the use of Tariffs to counter unfair Tariffs, I wonder, what can they be thinking?” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Are we just going to continue and let our farmers and country get ripped off? Lost $US817 Billion on Trade last year. No weakness!”

“When you have people snipping at your heels during a negotiation, it will only take longer to make a deal, and the deal will never be as good as it could have been with unity,” he added. “Negotiations are going really well, be cool. The end result will be worth it!”

But even on the president’s latest controversial trade move, Republicans are largely looking the other way. When asked whether the bailouts of farmers getting hit as a result of the US government’s own tariffs is a conservative policy, Montana Sen. Steve Daines said that Trump is just playing the long game to get a better deal with China.

“The most important question is what are we going to do to change China’s behaviours as it relates to unfair tariffs. Why does a car cost 25 per cent if we send it to China while two and half per cent tariff to come to the United States? Why are their tariffs three times higher?” Daines said. “So the right short and long term solution is fair and free trade and that’s what the president is trying to deliver.”

On the subject of the bailouts, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner said that while he does not “support the tariff strategy,” the US needs to put a stop to Chinese intervention.

“I think what we have to do is make sure China stops it’s unfair treatment of US farmers,” he said. “We need to open up new markets.”

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich defended the bailout as an example of Trump showing he is “not going to back down.”

“President Trump is right – and we better figure out how to engage in this fight and win it,” Gingrich said during a Tuesday appearance on Fox News.

Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota offered a mixed take, playing down the size of the bailout to Business Insider but noting that it is an acknowledgement that the trade policies are very harmful to the agricultural industry.

“I think we have an ongoing foreign policy – this is within the ongoing farm bill provisions already there – what they are coming up with is $US12 billion of additional funding that eventually would have to be paid back. It’s a band-aid, it is very short term in nature,” he said. “But what the really important part of this is this sends a message that the administration is recognising that the current policy is hurting farm prices in the upper midwest.”

‘An incoherent policy’

But the regular Trump critics have not budged on their disapproval. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, laughed off the idea that bailouts and tariffs even closely resemble a conservative policy plan.

And few Republicans have been as critical of the Trump administration’s actions as Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who told Business Insider that farmers “want trade not aid.”

“It’s an incoherent policy. They have incoherent solutions,” he said. “They have not even attempted to sit down with people and work it out.”

“I think the Europeans would be more than glad to go to zero tariff, which is what all of us would like to see happen,” Corker added. “But it’s much more difficult to have to sit down with people and work through tough negotiations than it is to just go around blowing everything up, which is what [Trump] is doing.”

But throughout the trade disputes of the Trump administration, and the headaches they have repeatedly caused Republicans, not much is to change, as GOP lawmakers in Washington still have not signalled they are willing to flex some of their Article 1 powers to limit the tariffs getting slapped on various industries.

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