Trump has been a fan of tariffs for decades, but a top GOP senator said he doesn't really believe in them

  • President Donald Trump has long praised protectionist policies, incorrectly claiming that foreign exporters bear the costs of them.
  • Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa told POLITICO he doesn’t think the president actually believes in tariffs.
  • Instead, Grassley said the president views tariffs as a negotiating tool.
  • Trump has expressed an affinity for tariffs since the 1980s.

GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley said he doesn’t think that President Donald Trump believes in tariffs and instead views them a tool to gain leverage in trade negotiations.

“If he has used tariffs because he believes they’re good, and I know he says that, but I don’t believe he actually believes that,” Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told POLITICO in an interview excerpt published Thursday. “I don’t see how he could believe it.”

The senator from Iowa has joined several Republicans who have become critical of tariffs, which have caused economic pain for constituents across rural America. The Trump administration is preparing another round of aid for farmers who saw agricultural exports fall sharply last year, largely because of its trade policies.

“We’re still a party of free trade,” Grassley said in the POLITICO interview. “I surely hope that he has learned from history that lower tariffs are good.”

Trump has praised protectionist policies for decades. He often repeats the false claim that foreign exporters pay tariffs, despite the consensus that domestic businesses and consumers bear the costs.

Asked in 1990 by Playboy about the first thing he would do if he took office, Trump answered: “I’d throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country and on all Japanese products, and we’d have wonderful allies again.”

The president has found bipartisan support in his call for a tougher stance on China, which has been accused of engaging in the forced transfer of foreign technology and other trade practices seen as unfair.

But critics say the administration’s approach has inflicted collateral damage on Americans and alienated US allies. Trump has also placed steep tariffs on Europe, Canada and Mexico.

The White House declined a request for comment.

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