- President Donald Trump may be proposing tariffs in part to help out a Republican in the nation’s biggest election.
- But constituents in the district have mixed views on the tariffs.
PITTSBURGH – President Donald Trump’s controversial tariffs may have been proposed with a very specific segment of the country in mind – Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District.
The Washington Post reported last week that Trump, who has kept a close eye on the special congressional race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone, was told by associates that voters in the district want to see his administration do more. Meanwhile, Post reporter Robert Costa tweeted that the district “is on the president’s mind as he thinks through tariffs.”
“He’s being told that his base in places like western PA wants to see more on trade,” Costa said, citing a person close to the White House.
Both Lamb and Saccone have signalled support for the proposed 10% tariff on aluminium and 25% tariff on steel entering the country. Lamb and Saccone are locked in a neck-and-neck race in a district Trump won by 20 points in 2016. It’s also a district that has a heavy industrial and union presence.
Voters in the district, however, are torn on whether the tariffs will be a net positive or a net negative. Some think they’re being proposed to help prop up Saccone’s campaign. Others, meanwhile, hold very favourable views toward the president’s promised action.
“It’s something that should have happened a long time ago,” Darrin Kelly, a Pittsburgh firefighter and president of the Allegheny/Fayette Central Labour Council, told Business Insider prior to giving opening remarks at a rally for Lamb. “It’s not political, it should not be looked at as political. This industry needs a lot of help.”
Kelly added that he hopes the tariffs are not being used to influence the race in the Pennsylvania district.
“It’s very sad if that’s how it’s looked at because this industry needs a lot of help and this is not a political issue in any way,” he said.
Justin DePlato, a political science professor at Robert Morris University and a delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention representing the 18th district, told Business Insider that he sees most in the district being “very happy” about Trump’s proposed tariffs, adding that they could lead to US Steel and the aluminium company Alcoa bringing jobs back to the area.
Trump “knows the issue of a tariff is a popular position in the district,” he continued.
‘I think it’s going to start wars, tariff wars’
But some were sceptical of the economic impact on the region.
“Steel isn’t real big around here anymore,” Walt Kerin, a union carpenter attending the Lamb rally, told Business Insider. “People are saying it’s going to start a trade war.”
Ronald Eiben, a union carpenter attending the same rally, echoed Kerin.
“From what I see it’s not going to be a positive thing,” he said. “I think it’s going to start wars, tariff wars. Dividing everybody.”
Trump rolled out the tariffs Thursday afternoon, despite some earlier confusion in the administration about what exactly is going to be announced. Republicans, long in favour of free trade, have sought to talk the president out of the tariffs.
The proposed tariffs reportedly led to top White House economic adviser Gary Cohn announcing his resignation earlier this week. Meanwhile, polling found that Americans are largely opposed to the proposal, with 31% of respondents to a Quinnipiac University survey saying they support the tariffs and 50% saying they oppose them. The Trade Partnership, a consulting firm that researches international trade,found that the tariffs could cost the US about 146,000 jobs.
“Listen, I think this is all about Pennsylvania 18,” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said on his program earlier this week. “He’s going to wait till Pennsylvania 18 is over and then he’s going to pull back on this…. They have got a race in the suburbs, in Pittsburgh. They let that play out next Tuesday, he pulls back, decides not to do it.”
Mary Ann Cupples Wisniowski, chair of the Collier, Pennsylvania Democratic Committee, said she could “believe” that the tariffs were being proposed to help out Saccone. She added that she wanted to see what Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO federation of unions, had to say about them before forming her opinion on their merit.
Lynn Heckman, a fellow Democratic committee member in the town, said she thought the tariffs “don’t make any sense at all.”
“It’s really good to do something targeted about things that are really unfair, and I’m all for anything that helps the workers in our region,” she said, “But what Trump’s talking about doesn’t make any sense to any economist or any politician in there, except himself.”