Trump's China tariffs turn Congress on its head as Democrats cheer and GOP slams the move

Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesDonald Trump and Rep. Kevin Brady

  • President Donald Trump announced tariffs on roughly $US50 billion worth of Chinese goods.
  • Republicans appreciated Trump’s attempts to crack down on China, but condemned the use of tariffs to do so.
  • Democrats, on the other hand, applauded the move.

President Donald Trump’s tariffs on more than $US15 billion worth of Chinese goods is drawing cheers and condemnations from Congress, but not along the party lines you may expect.

Many Republicans criticised Trump’s move. While most GOP members praised the president’s focus on China’s uncompetitive economic practices, they took issue with Trump’s method of punishment.

“My message has been consistent: we need to hit our target, which is China and its deceptive and harmful trading practices,” Republican Rep. Kevin Brady, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said. “But I am concerned that these new tariffs will instead hurt American manufacturers, farmers, workers, and consumers.”

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, chair of the Senate Finance Committe and a long-time free trade advocate, took a similar approach in his statement.

“America’s trade strategy must focus on combatting China’s discriminatory and market-distorting practices,” Hatch said. “Ill-conceived trade actions that weaken the American economy, alienate allies, and invite retaliation against American businesses, farmers and ranchers, undermine our nation’s ability to successfully confront China’s unfair trade policies.”

Economic history shows that tariffs typically raise prices for consumers and can dampen economic growth. Previous instances of sustained tariffs by the US resulted in a net loss of jobs and damage to average Americans.

There was at least one happy Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida – who has been pushing Trump at attack China for weeks – offered unequivocal praise for the move.

“This is an EXCELLENT move by ⁦@realDonaldTrump⁩ most of these technology products from #China are made from technology stolen from US companies,” Rubio tweeted. “They steal over $US300 billion worth of technology a year. So these aren’t tariffs they are a #TheftTax.”

‘The president’s actions on China are on the money’

On the other end of the spectrum, a number of Democrats applauded Trump’s decision. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who long pressured Trump to crack down on China, praised the tariffs.

“The president’s actions on China are on the money,” Schumer said. “China is our real trade enemy, and their theft of intellectual property and their refusal to let our companies compete fairly threatens millions of future American jobs. While we await further details on this trade action, President Trump is right on target.”

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is up for re-election this fall, also celebrated Trump’s move.

“China’s cheating has shuttered steel plants across our state, put Ohioans out of work, and distorted global markets,” Brown said. “Today’s tariffs are an important step toward enforcing trade laws and making clear the U.S. will not allow China to cheat Americans out of their jobs.”

While Democrats don’t agree with Trump often, the party has long been more sceptical of the benefits of free trade. Many Democrats were against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal, despite the TPP being advanced by President Barack Obama. Even in the 1990s, more of the party’s members voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) than Republicans.

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