Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Flake’

Senate Democratic incumbents expect easier road to re-election in midterms

July 21, 2018

In 2012, Sen. Sherrod Brown faced more than $24 million in ads from conservative groups opposing his first reelection.

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Sen. Sherrod Brown

Six years later, the Democrat has been forgotten as outside groups have almost entirely abandoned the Ohio airwaves, vastly improving his chances to win a third term in November.

Brown’s comfortable position comes as something of a surprise given President Trump won Ohio by more than 8 percentage points in 2016.

But a new study, by a Republican strategist, suggests it should not be a surprise at all. Bruce Mehlman, a former Bush administration official, surveyed the past 10 midterm elections — covering 333 Senate races dating to 1978 — and discovered Brown’s standing is actually the norm for a midterm election. And it is all because of Trump.

“The single most important factor is whether your party occupies the White House. If you are out of power and an incumbent, you just rarely lose,” said Mehlman, now a partner at a bipartisan lobbying firm.

Consider other Senate Democrats in similar states. Brown is one of five running in a state Trump won by single digits. Four other members of the Democratic caucus are seeking reelection from states Trump narrowly lost.

Of those nine contests, Florida is the only toss-up, according to independent handicappers.

Republicans are trailing in the other races, at this point, reducing the amount of defense Democrats will have to play this fall.

For certain, it is still a difficult climate for Democrats. They are defending five seats in states where Trump won by a minimum of 19 percentage points two years ago and remains relatively popular now. In Florida, which Trump won by just 1 percentage point, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is in a dogfight against GOP Gov. Rick Scott.

And Republicans are only defending two seats, in Nevada and Arizona, where Clinton was competitive in 2016. They potentially face tough contests in Tennessee and Texas.

All this followed a historical set of races two years ago, in which all 36 states holding Senate races went in the same partisan direction as that state’s presidential ballot.

This created the potential for Democrats to suffer big losses in 2018, putting Republicans near the elusive figure of 60 seats and a filibuster-proof majority.

Democratic senators such as Brown, Robert J. Casey Jr. (Pa.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) might have seemed ripe for at least very strong challenges when Trump was sworn in January 2017, coming from states that voted twice for Barack Obama and then gave Trump the margin to win the presidency.

Instead, Democrats are currently in control of those races and appear to have minimized their potential losses to a seat or two, with the outside chance of running the table to win the majority.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said these senators will support Trump in some areas — Brown’s trade policy aligns with the president’s in some respects — but they are openly campaigning on how they will “be an independent senator” for their state.

“That means being a check on Trump when necessary,” Van Hollen said.

History suggests Trump’s triumph provided the key boost to their chances of victory in November, and Mehlman’s analysis reveals how the longest of long shots, a Democratic wave big enough to claim the majority, might not be unfathomable.

Since the 1978 midterm elections, 23 incumbent senators have run for reelection from a state a president from the other party had won two years earlier by single-digit margins.

The Senate incumbent from the opposition party has won all 23 contests.

That is the sort of historical reassurance that helps Nelson, Brown, Casey, Baldwin and Stabenow, who hope to extend that streak to 28 for 28 in November.

Trump’s sustained unpopularity in these states has freed up these incumbents to be more forceful in their challenges to the president. Casey, for example, announced his opposition to any Supreme Court nominee of Trump’s several hours before the president announced Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh as his pick. Stabenow waited a couple days but rejected Kavanaugh without even the courtesy meeting with the nominee.

But what about those five Democrats from big-time states supporting Trump? History is much kinder than anyone would have expected, according to Mehlman.

Since 1978, 43 senators have run in midterm elections in which a president of the other party won their state by more than 10 percentage points just two years earlier.

And 39 of those senators have won, almost 91 percent of them.

Think Sen. Susan Collins (R), who coasted in 2014 despite Obama’s easy victories in Maine. Or then-Sen. Kent Conrad’s easy reelection in 2006 two years after George W. Bush carried North Dakota by more than 25 percentage points.

This year’s Senate races will put that math to the test perhaps like never before, with Sen. Joe Manchin III, for example, running as a Democrat in a state where Hillary Clinton received just 26 percent of the vote two years ago.

And yet, according to Politico, the top GOP super PAC canceled a $750,000 ad buy set to run over the last half of July in West Virginia, a sign that maybe Manchin is in a stronger than expected position.

Republicans face a mixed bag in terms of states in which they are playing defense. Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.) is the only GOP incumbent running in a state that went for Clinton, by a slim margin, and incumbents running in those circumstances have won less than 70 percent of the time.

In Arizona, where Trump won by single digits and Sen. Jeff Flake (R) is retiring, history is not kind. The party holding that open seat, in a state its president narrowly won, has prevailed just 30 percent of the time.

It is almost as if Senate races have tilted into two different geographical maps. In presidential years, incumbents need to line up with whoever their state favors for the White House.

In midterms, not so much.


Lawmakers to President Trump: End Putin Summit Mystery

July 21, 2018

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are worried that Russian President Vladimir Putin may use his one-on-one meeting with President Trump in Helsinki to drive a wedge between NATO allies by claiming secret side deals with the United States.

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Congressional Republicans are urging the White House to get ahead of the Kremlin by defining what was and wasn’t agreed to. What was said between the two leaders, they admit, remains a disconcerting mystery.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) says he has “no idea” what Russian ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov meant when he said Wednesday that Trump and Putin had entered into “important verbal agreements.”

Corker expressed concern about talk that the White House and Kremlin are “setting up a second meeting so they can begin implementation” of these mystery agreements.

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Bob Corker

Other Republicans pointed to the lack of transparency as problematic.

“I don’t know what happened privately, nobody does,” said Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), adding that Trump needs to publicize whatever efforts he made to push back against Putin in their private meeting.

“It’s not enough just to raise it privately because everyone is watching, including our allies, including the people of Russia, including our intelligence agencies,” he said of any grievances Trump may have aired with Putin.

Members of Congress worry that Russia will use the Helsinki summit to undermine U.S. relations with NATO allies, especially with former Eastern Bloc and Soviet states that Putin views as within his country’s traditional sphere of influence.

Antonov said this week that Trump and Putin reached verbal agreements on two charged issues: Syria and arms control.

“The White House better get out in front of this before the Russians start characterizing this,” warned Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and frequent Trump critic. “The Russians will use this.”

“There’s so little trust of this president, our president, among our allies,” he added.

U.S. security officials recognize that undermining NATO is one of Putin’s top foreign policy goals.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford warned Congress last year that Russia “every day is undermining the credibility of our alliance commitment to NATO and our ability to respond to NATO.”

Republican lawmakers worry that Trump may be unwittingly advancing that strategy by criticizing allies sharply at a NATO summit in Brussels and then embracing Putin in Helsinki.

Flake noted that in a recent trip to Latvia he and his colleagues witnessed a concerted Russian propaganda campaign to convince Baltic states that “NATO is weak” and “America is an unreliable ally.”

Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a center-right think tank said that while Russia’s remarks about the outcome of an international summit wouldn’t normally be viewed as credible, Trump’s unorthodox style creates an atmosphere of uncertainty.

“In normal circumstances I would say that statements by Russia about their inferences about particular meetings are not especially credible or important or right or destabilizing,” she said. “The problem is because our president is himself so loosey-goosey about his leadership, about these meetings, about fundamentally everything that we can begin to worry.”

But agreements entered into solely by the president don’t carry a lot of weight, she said, pointing to former President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran that largely circumvented congressional approval.

“If the president has verbal discussions with anybody and no one else is there, no one can reasonably be expected to act on them,” she said.

Even so, congressional Republicans aren’t taking any chances about how the optics of the situation may affect bedrock international security arrangements.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took the unusual step of telling European Union allies Tuesday that Republicans in Congress value NATO and view Russia as a hostile adversary.

“We believe the European Union counties are our friends and the Russians are not,” McConnell told reporters. “We understand the Russian threat.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) warned on the Senate floor Thursday that the president and senior U.S. officials should be careful not to undermine Western alliances.

“Words matter. And what Americans say can bolster or shake confidence in the United States,” Moran said, adding that a recent trip to Moscow, Norway and Finland left him “unconvinced that that Russia is prepared to change its behavior.”

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank, said concern that fallout from the summit could weaken U.S.-NATO relations “is warranted.”

But he said “it shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.”

NATO alliances don’t depend on the president alone, he noted.

“If, for example, Trump promised somehow to abandon an ally, first of all he really couldn’t if a treaty binds us to them, and second of all, the ally would presumably raise this issue with us the minute the Russians whispered some threat in their ear,” O’Hanlon said. “At that point, Trump would have the chance to deny or correct or repudiate whatever the Russians were saying.”

Nevertheless, longtime U.S. allies have been unsettled by Trump’s foreign policy stances, even before he met with Putin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned in May that Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement “damages trust in the international order,” and that Europe could no longer rely on the United States to provide for its security.

“It is no longer such that the United States simply protects us, but Europe must take its destiny in its own hands,” she said.

Sen. Chris Coons (Del.), a Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, said “we shouldn’t be just guessing on the statements of the Russian ambassador” about what was agreed to at the summit.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has demanded the U.S. government translator who attended the private Trump-Putin meeting be made available to testify before Congress.

He and other Democrats also want the White House to turn over contemporaneous notes from the summit.


In a letter to Trump this week, Democrats asked what “suggestions” Putin made to the president, whether the two leaders agreed to any changes in international security agreements and whether they made any commitments about the future presence of U.S. military forces in Syria, among other questions.

They also asked if the president discussed sanctions relief for Russia, NATO military exercises in the fall, U.S. security assistance to Ukraine or made any other commitments to Putin.

Republicans say they hope to learn details about what Trump discussed and may have agreed to when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifiesbefore the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

If questions remain after his appearance, Corker said he would consider asking for notes or testimony from the American translator who was present at the meeting with Putin.

But he cautioned it would be a last resort.

“It feels a little out of bounds,” Corker said. “I’m open to listening. I’d rather address it after the Pompeo hearing on Wednesday and see how transparent that ends up being.”

“I’m not going to say no, no, no,” he added. “If there’s no transparency, maybe we’ll revisit it.”

So far, Flake is the only Senate Republican to back Schumer’s call for the White House to turn over notes from the summit.

“I would hope that those notes — all interpreters take notes — would be turned over,” he said Thursday. “We need to know.

Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit

July 20, 2018

Senate Republicans are attempting to dissuade President Trump from holding another summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin anytime soon.

Many GOP senators regard Trump’s meeting with the Russian leader in Helsinki earlier this week as a political disaster. Congressional Republicans have since come under intense pressure to renounce the president’s embrace of Putin on the world stage, particularly his apparent acceptance of Putin’s denial that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

When asked about the possibility of a second summit, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) hung his head and quipped, “maybe in a year or two.”

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The body language of other GOP senators was equally telling.

“I don’t have anything to say about that today,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), another member of the GOP leadership, lowering his eyes and shaking his head.

The White House confirmed Thursday that Trump has asked national security adviser John Bolton to invite Putin to Washington for another rounds of talks in the fall.

“In Helsinki, @POTUS agreed to ongoing working level dialogue between the two security council staffs,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted. “President Trump asked @Ambjohnbolton to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway.”

Republican senators made clear that they think rushing into another Helsinki is not a good idea.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) called for a timeout on summits.

“At this point I think we need to clarify where we are,” Capito said, noting there’s still confusion about Trump’s comments and what he agreed to when he met with Putin one-on-one in the Finnish capital.

“It’s a little cloudy, so if he’s asking my advice I would say let’s let the dust settle here,” she added. “Let’s work on some of the issues they talked about.”

Republicans broadly expressed disappointment with the outcome of the Helsinki summit, where Trump gave equal weight to Putin’s election meddling denials and the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

A new poll found similar dismay among constituents.

Only 32 percent of respondents approved of the way Trump handled the summit, according to a CBS News poll released Thursday. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they felt less confident about Trump standing up for U.S. interests after watching him on stage next to Putin.

“That was not a good moment for our country,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), repeating what has become something of a mantra for him this week.


Washington, DC, USA; Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Ten., listens during Mike Pompeo’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.(Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)

Trump tried multiple times to walk back his statements from the joint press conference with Putin, somberly declaring his acceptance of “our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.”

But Trump veered off script during his initial walk-back, saying the election interference “could be other people.”

“A lot of people out there,” he said, undercutting U.S. intelligence findings that Russia was the culprit.

Trump drew rebukes from Republican lawmakers later in the week when he said Russia doesn’t pose a threat to the United States, contradicting his own director of national intelligence.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said any claim that Russia doesn’t pose a threat is “just not true.”

“It’s the assessment of everyone I’ve spoken to in the field,” Rubio said.

The White House later said Trump’s threat-related remarks were misunderstood.

There are lingering concerns among GOP lawmakers over what Trump agreed to during the one-on-one meeting with Putin, when translators were the only other people in the room.

Russian ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said Wednesday that Trump and Putin reached “important verbal agreements” during the summit, remarks that caught U.S. officials off guard.

Antonov said the leaders reached agreements on issues related to Syria and arms control.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a frequent critic of Trump’s policies, on Thursday backed a demand by Democrats that the White House turn over the contemporaneous notes of the interpreter who translated the private meeting with Putin.

“We’ve got to find out what the Russian ambassador was referring to yesterday when he said that important agreements were reached,” Flake said. “We don’t know. We have no idea. We’ve got to find that out.”

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Jeff Flake

Flake and other congressional Republicans worry that Russia may be trying to claim secret deals to undermine NATO alliances.

Republican senators say Trump needs to be better prepared going into the next summit and deal with Putin more directly about U.S. grievances over Russian policies and actions.

“It’s a good thing to be meeting and to talk, but we’ve got to be sure the message is consistent, strong,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “And unless you’re straightforward with what the problems are, you’re never going to develop a better relationship.”

Senate Republicans hope to get more information about the possibility of a second-round summit with Putin when Secretary of State Mike Pompeotestifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

“I can assure you that next Wednesday, that when Secretary Pompeo comes in, there’s going to be a lot of interest,” Corker said.

When asked about the possibility of another summit in a few months, Corker responded, “Ask me after Wednesday.”


John Kelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report

July 18, 2018

White House chief of staff John Kelly reportedly gave GOP lawmakers the green light to rebuke President Trump‘s controversial remarks from his joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Three sources told Vanity Fair on the condition of anonymity that Kelly was furious after Trump stood with Putin during their summit in Helsinki and sided with his denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Kelly photographed on the White House grounds, June 28, 2018.

Trump sparked major backlash among U.S. lawmakers and the intelligence community by siding with Putin’s denial instead of the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia did intervene in an effort to help Trump win.

Trump also blamed special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation for keeping the U.S. and Russia “separate.”

Kelly told Trump that his remarks might worsen the situation with Mueller, according to Vanity Fair, which reported that the chief of staff then called Republicans on Capitol Hill and told them they could publicly speak out against Trump’s comments.

It’s unclear who anonymously spoke to Vanity Fair for its report, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

GOP lawmakers have largely criticized Trump’s performance in Helsinki — even those who do not typically split with the president.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called Trump’s statements “shameful” and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said they were a “sign of weakness.”

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said it was wrong to draw a moral equivalence between Russia and the U.S., and insisted the intelligence community is correct in its assessment of Russian interference.

Kelly has stood by the president through other bouts of intense public criticism, but sources told Vanity Fair this was different. They attributed Trump’s quick rollback partially to Kelly’s response.

Trump on Tuesday tried to walk back his remarks, claiming he misspoke when he said he didn’t see “any reason that it would be” Russia that interfered.

“I would like to clarify, in a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,’ ” Trump said. “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ ”

Trump also said Tuesday that he believes Russia interfered in the presidential election, but again muddied the waters by repeating a claim he has made previously that other parties could have also interfered.

Former Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller noted to Vanity Fair that a 24-hour turnaround is abnormal for Trump.

“Any of these other kerfuffles, if he had addressed it the next day, we wouldn’t have had that many days of things, like ‘shithole countries,’ ” Miller said.

See also:



Vanity Fair

As he flew home from Helsinki on Air Force One following his disastrous press conference with Vladimir PutinDonald Trump reacted with surprise at the horror and outrage that was being expressed by much of the American political world. By the time he landed, the surprise had turned to anger. “He was enraged there was a lack of people out there defending him,” one Republican close to the White House told me. The mood among West Wing advisers was downright funereal. “This was the nightmare scenario,” another Republican in frequent contact with the administration said.

Trump had weathered epic crises of his own making before, from the Access Hollywood tape to Charlottesville to “shithole countries.” Each time he survived withering criticism by doubling down and counterattacking. But as he woke up Tuesday morning, Trump had to recognize that his embrace of Putin on the world stage was a crisis of a different magnitude, and he personally stepped in to try to manage the fallout.

While National Security Adviser John Bolton, according to a source, thought Trump’s remarks were ill-advised, he believed that walking them back would only add fuel to the outrage pyre and make the president look weak. But Chief of Staff John Kelly was irate. According to a source, he told Trump it would make things worse for him with Robert Mueller. He also exerted pressure to try to get the president to walk back his remarks. According to three sources familiar with the situation, Kelly called around to Republicans on Capitol Hill and gave them the go-ahead to speak out against Trump. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan held televised press conferences to assert that Russia did meddle in the election.

Trump was boxed in. With seemingly only Rand Paul, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson in his corner, Trump decided to backtrack. Appearing before reporters this afternoon, Trump blamed his comments on a grammatical mistake. “I would like to clarify, in a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,’” he said, reading from a statement. “The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’”

To those who know Trump best, the 24-hour reversal is a sign that he’s unnerved by the intensity of the backlash he provoked. “The president sent a very clear message [that] his worldview is in sync with his base and members of his party,” former Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller told me. “Any of these other kerfuffles, if he had addressed it the next day, we wouldn’t have had that many days of things like s-hole countries.”

US Treasury chief moves to calm lawmakers’ trade jitters

July 12, 2018


© GETTY/AFP | US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was grilled by the House Financial Services Committee by members complaining about the impact of a trade war on US industries and consumers

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday worked to ease lawmakers’ worries about President Donald Trump’s expanding trade offensive.

Mnuchin’s appearance before a key Congressional committee came a day after the US Senate overwhelmingly voted to adopt a symbolic rebuke of the White House, endorsing legal limits on the president’s trade powers.

The Senate vote was nonbinding, but underscored the daylight separating Trump and members of his own Republican party, who have so far shrunk from actively blocking his trade policies.

With scores of billions of dollars in US imports and exports now subject to punitive import duties, higher industrial and consumer prices are beginning to feed into inflation, alarming business leaders.

Economists have repeatedly warned that the growing trade war will depress investment and economic growth.

The International Monetary Fund also has warned against the rising tide of protectionism and the potential to damage the global recovery. The IMF is due to release updated global growth projections on Monday.

But Mnuchin defended Trump’s policies before the House Financial Services Committee, while lawmakers repeatedly pleaded for US products, workers and industries vulnerable to tariffs, including Georgia pecans, Kentucky bourbon, Michigan and South Carolina autos, Missouri soy growers and nail manufacturers.

The committee chairman, outgoing Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling, said the tariffs jeopardized US energy independence by raising prices for oilfield equipment. He denounced Trump’s threats to use national security as a justification for even more tariffs on the hundreds of billions of dollars in annual auto imports.

“The 11-year-old Honda Accord I drove to work today simply does not threaten national security, nor does any other imported vehicle,” Hensarling said, urging the White House to focus on China rather than confronting traditional allies like Canada and Europe.

– Asking Harley to stay –

But Mnuchin said in annual testimony on the state of the international financial system that the president’s policies were likely to succeed for all concerned.

“I think that the end game is we’re focused on having free and fair trade for American companies,” Mnuchin said. “I’m cautiously optimistic but I think we’re going to end up in a good place.”

He also said he was paying close attention to vulnerable sectors such as soy beans.

“We have not yet seen any negative impact although… we are monitoring the impact on uncertainty in investment.”

Mnuchin said Trump had urged famed Wisconsin motorcycle maker Harley Davidson not to offshore additional production in response to retaliatory European tariffs.

But he suggested the company had seized on Trump’s tariff policies last month to deflect negative scrutiny from its off-shoring plans.

The company announced last month plans to shift some production overseas due to the 31 percent European tariffs on motorcycles imposed in retaliation for Trump’s steep duties on aluminum and steel.

“My sense is that Harley Davidson had previously planned on moving some of this manufacturing,” he said.

– Iranian oil –

Mnuchin also said Washington continued to urge US allies to cut oil imports from Iran.

Over the objections of allies, Trump in May pulled the United States from a joint deal on Iran’s nuclear program, reinstating US sanctions and effectively barring many multinational firms from doing business in that country.

New US sanctions on Iranian oil exports are set to take effect in November although US officials have floated the possibility of offering some waivers.

“I think we expect that the Iranian oil shipments will decrease significantly,” he said.



Trump trade policies draw bipartisan fire in Congress

July 12, 2018
Republicans and Democrats unite to accuse the president of endangering economic growth
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Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, denied that Trump trade policies have hurt the US economy © Getty

By Sam Fleming and Courtney Weaver in Washington 

The Trump administration came under fire from both parties on Capitol Hill on Thursday as legislators expressed intensifying concern about the economic damage that could result from a trade war with America’s key partners.

In an unusual display of bipartisan harmony, senior Republicans and Democrats hammered administration officials over the risks to the US economy as Donald Trump pursues trade actions both against China and close US allies including Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused the president of having no strategy on trade and of abusing his authority as he declared: “I have not heard a single senator come back with any earthly idea — any earthly idea — cannot articulate a sentence as to why we are doing this.”

In the House financial services committee, Jeb Hensarling, the Republican chairman, told Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury secretary, that the “economic miracle” the president had fostered may well be lost if the country gets mired in a “full-fledged global trade war with no end in sight.”

Folks are confused. They are anxious and they have a concern. And you just heard it from us on a bipartisan basis

Maxine Waters, the Democratic ranking member of the committee, said the reaction of business — including Harley-Davidson’s decision to move some production overseas to avoid tariffs — promised pain ahead for US workers and consumers.

“The Trump administration appears to be flying by seat of pants with no plan for how to address the possibility of a recession, the higher prices consumers will pay, and the resulting losses of millions of American jobs,” she said.

At a separate event, Paul Ryan, the Republican House speaker, joined the chorus of criticism. “We risk having American products locked out of new markets, jobs moved overseas, and a decline in American influence. As our generals will tell you, these agreements are just as important for our national security as they are for our economy,” he told the Economic Club of Washington.

The anxiety comes after the announcement that the administration is beginning the process of imposing tariffs on a further $200bn of imports from China, on top of previous rounds of levies. Business surveys have indicated rising angst among executives and minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest rate-setting meeting reported that some firms have put investments on hold or reduced them.

Mr Mnuchin told members of the House financial services committee that his department had not seen any negative economic impact from the policies but that it was “very much monitoring the impact on the economy of all these different issues.”

Addressing trade tensions, he said there is a planned meeting with the EU later this month and insisted the government was “very focused” on responding to retaliatory measures being imposed on US products by foreign governments. He said the administration was open to renewing talks with China if Beijing showed it wished to make “structural changes”. Talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement were a top priority now the Mexican election was out of the way, he added.

Manisha Singh, assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, faced a similarly hostile grilling from Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The toughest line of questioning came from Mr Corker who warned at the start of the hearing that Ms Singh was about to be “cannon fodder”.

“I believe the president is abusing his authorities. I believe it is a massive abuse of his authorities,” Mr Corker said. When Ms Singh attempted to defend the administration, laying out the five pillars of the administration’s plan on trade, Mr Corker shot back: “That enlightened us in no way.”

Mr Corker and Jeff Flake — another Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — have been two of the most outspoken critics of Mr Trump’s trade policies. Both men have announced they are retiring at the end of this term, allowing them more flexibility to go after the president and his policies.

Despite the uproar on Capitol Hill, it is not clear what Congress will do to influence trade policy. On Wednesday, the Senate backed a measure authored by Mr Flake and Mr Corker designed to give Congress a greater say on trade policies. The provision is largely symbolic, although its sweeping passage by a vote of 88-11 underscored the extent of concerns about trade policy on Capitol Hill.

Mr Corker has authored a bill that would roll back Mr Trump’s unilateral trade authority and subject the tariffs that Mr Trump has introduced on national security grounds to congressional approval. So far, Republican leadership has refused to bring Mr Corker’s bill to a vote.

During the Senate hearing, Ms Singh faced criticism from alarmed senators who laid out the impact Mr Trump’s trade gambit was having on their states.

“Folks are confused. They are anxious and they have a concern. And you just heard it from us on a bipartisan basis,” said Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware. The closest US allies were “puzzled” and “offended”, he added.

“You are going to put companies in New Mexico out of business with these tariffs,” warned Tom Udall, a Democratic senator from New Mexico.


Why nothing seems to be stopping Trump’s trade war

July 12, 2018

President Trump is remaking the global trade order without significant political resistance or penalty, unchecked by a largely compliant Congress and bolstered by the loyalty of his supporters — even those likely to be hurt by his burgeoning global trade war.

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The Senate on Wednesday passed a nonbinding measure calling for a greater role in overseeing Trump’s trade decisions, an implicit criticism of new tariffs the president has levied on some of the country’s closest allies and largest trading partners. But the vote has no power to prompt a course change from the White House. And it follows failed attempts to advance measures that could have given Congress new power to restrain Trump.

By Erica Werner and Heather Long
The Washington Post

Congress’s passivity in the face of Trump’s escalating trade conflict is one of several factors that have made it easier for the president to push on. Others have included markets that haven’t melted down, business leaders who have done little beyond using rhetoric to criticize the trade spat, and Republican voters who have stood by their president. In each of these cases, critics of his trade policy had hoped Trump would find reason to be dissuaded.

The trade changes mirror Trump’s rapid and similarly unchecked efforts to reposition the United States in the global political order. During his trip to Europe this week, the president has antagonized the country’s NATO allies. He also plans to meet next week with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, seeking to tighten ties with a traditional rival.

On trade, U.S. partners have retaliated with their own tariffs on U.S. goods, targeting GOP strongholds and paining sensitive industries and areas that depend on access to foreign markets. New polling suggests, however, that Trump supporters in those areas are standing by the president.

The parts of the country most affected by Trump’s trade war remain supportive of the president for now. Among the 15 states most affected by the tariffs, Trump’s approval rating is 57 percent, according to a recent Washington Post-Schar School poll. Trump won 52 percent of the vote in those states in 2016.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) stops to field questions from reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill. The Senate approved a nonbinding resolution calling for a greater role in overseeing President Trump’s tariff decisions. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Much of the pain has centered on soybean farmers, whose crops are exported widely and who have seen prices nosedive since the trade war intensified.

“I am in Brussels, but always thinking about our farmers,” Trump wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “I am fighting for a level playing field for our farmers, and will win!”

Trump’s unimpeded trade efforts could face more resistance, however, if disputes with allies intensify and more of their economic consequences hit home.

Though Trump has been making trade threats since the start of his presidential campaign, the opening rounds of tariffs are only now taking effect. If the U.S. economy were to slow meaningfully because of the conflict, Trump could yet be forced to change course.

But despite the escalating trade spats, markets have not cratered. While U.S. stocks slid Wednesday, with the Dow Jones industrial average falling 219 points, markets have kept relatively calm in recent weeks even as the United States and China swapped punitive trade measures.

Washington investment manager Michael Farr said that after months of presidential outbursts, Trump fatigue is setting in among investors.

“Wall Street seems to be beginning to get him,” said Farr, who believes investors have largely priced in Trump’s trade actions and aggressive statements.

Senators looking to check Trump’s trade agenda saw hope for more action after Wednesday’s vote, when the Senate voted 88 to 11 to approve language asserting “a role for Congress” when Trump imposes tariffs in the name of national security, as he has done with steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico, the European Union and others.

But one of the measure’s strongest supporters, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), acknowledged after the vote that if the measure had had teeth, it wouldn’t have passed.

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Jeff Flake

“If we had had a binding vote today, we wouldn’t have won it,” Flake, who is retiring at the end of the congressional session, said Wednesday.

He added: “Some are still giving the president some kind of license or leash here. But most of us think we know where the president wants to go. And it’s not where we want to be.”

As the Senate suggests it should have more oversight, the administration has not paused in ramping up trade disputes.

Early this week Trump identified $200 billion in Chinese imports he would hit with tariffs unless Beijing agreed to major trade concessions. The massive levies would add to the $34 billion in Chinese imports on which Trump officially imposed new tariffs earlier this month — a move that drew an immediate dollar-for-dollar retaliation from China.

Tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports remain in place on most countries around the world, despite protests from Republican lawmakers and long-standing international allies.

Trump’s ability to unilaterally impose trade measures comes after Congress has repeatedly ceded its authority over trade through laws and fast-track agreements. That approach had worked well for congressional Republicans and other free-trade advocates, as presidents negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other pacts. Then Trump arrived determined to ride roughshod over all of it.

Many lawmakers from both parties believe Trump abused his authority in invoking Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which allowed him to unilaterally impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports after his administration determined they posed a threat to U.S. security. He’s now threatening to do the same with automobiles, which lawmakers are warning could be even more ruinous to the economy.

Trump’s rejection of free trade is his most pronounced break from traditional Republican Party doctrine. But by most accounts, the president cannot be dissuaded from the protectionist views he formed decades ago and made a centerpiece of his campaign for president.

“He’s very true to what he said he was going to do during the campaign for president,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).

For months, Roberts and other Republicans have been sounding the alarm about retaliatory tariffs on farm country and elsewhere, and warning that a trade war threatens the strong economy that will be the GOP’s calling card in the upcoming midterm elections, in which Democrats will aim to retake control of Congress.

A majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of trade and think escalating tariffs with China will be “bad” for jobs, according to the Washington Post-Schar School poll conducted from June 27 to July 2. There’s more worry about rising prices — nearly three-fourths of Americans believe tariffs will be bad for the cost of imported goods, according to the poll.

And even though Trump’s support in the 15 states most affected by the trade war remains high, a majority of respondents in those states also said they disapproved of the president’s handling of international trade.

But when people are asked what their top issues are heading into the midterm elections, trade is low on the list, below issues such as the economy, jobs, health care, immigration, guns and taxes, according to the recent poll.

That may be in part because most Americans aren’t feeling the impacts of these higher import taxes yet. The tariffs in place so far — and the retaliatory measures from other countries — will cost the average family about $80 more a year, according to economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics. Many large companies aren’t even passing the additional costs on to consumers yet because they knew the tariffs were coming and planned ahead by buying supplies before the higher prices went into effect.

“The impact is fairly negligible for most Americans right now,” said Chris Ellis, director of the Survey Research Laboratory at Bucknell University.

Phil Ramsey, chair of the Indiana Soybean Alliance membership and policy committee, said he speaks multiple times a day with other farmers in his state.

“Most of us farmers are extremely patient,” said Ramsey, a 58-year-old soybean and corn farmer who voted for Trump and attended his inauguration. “We dump hundreds of thousands of seeds and fertilizer into these fields. Then we wait for them to grow. We know it will happen.”

But lawmakers from farm states are cautioning Trump that he is testing voters’ patience.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said trade was a constant theme in 10 county meetings last week in his home state.

“People are very nervous, and they’d like to have me say, ‘Well, we’re going have this settled by September the 15th or November the 15th.’ I can’t give them that assurance,” Grassley said. “I can just tell them the president’s negotiating approach is the longer you negotiate, the better deal you get. And so everybody’s nervous, and it’s costing a lot.”

He warned that “as time goes on, as prices go down, there’s less patience” from the voters for the president.

Scott Clement and Tom Heath contributed to this report.

Republican Senator Jeff Flake blocking votes on all of President Donald Trump’s appeals court nominees

June 21, 2018

Outgoing GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is blocking votes on all of President Donald Trump’s appeals court nominees to secure concessions from Republican leaders on tariffs and Cuban travel restrictions.

Flake, a Trump antagonist who is not seeking reelection amid floundering popularity with Arizona Republicans, has not openly addressed the matter, though his seat on a closely divided Senate Judiciary Committee gives him significant leverage over judgeships.

Roll Call first reported that Flake halted a committee vote on Georgia Supreme Court Justice Britt Grant’s nomination to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appeals court based in Atlanta. CNN confirmed late Wednesday that the senator will block all appeals court nominees to prompt discussions on relations with Cuba and the president’s escalating trade war with much of the industrial world.

Flake is one of 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which issues recommendations on judicial nominees before a final confirmation vote. The GOP has a one-vote majority on the panel, making Flake’s cooperation essential if Republicans wish to process candidates.

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As of this writing, there are 10 appeals court nominees pending before the committee, including a candidate for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a regular target of conservative scorn and has jurisdiction over Flake’s home state. (RELATED: Interest Groups Key Up For Next Supreme Court Fight)

The senator has not spoken publicly about his tactics, nor has he been clear as to the specific policy accomplishments he hopes to extract in exchange for continued cooperation on judges.

Judicial nominations are a priority for the embattled Republican Senate caucus, which risks losing its tenuous majority in the November elections. A steady clip of confirmations also provides Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell meaningful victories as legislating slows ahead of the midterm campaign season.

McConnell cancelled the Senate’s August recess on June 5, in part to make progress on a backlog of judicial nominees.

The Senate has confirmed 21 appeals judges since Trump took office.


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Trump casts doubt on success of China trade talks — European Union has become very spoiled

May 18, 2018
President Donald Trump said Thursday he doubted high-level trade talks with China this week would be successful because the Chinese have been treated too easily by past administrations. But he also struck a more optimistic tone in the same set of comments.

“The reason I doubt it is because China has become very spoiled,” Trump told reporters ahead of a meeting later Thursday with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who is leading the delegation in Washington for talks aimed at averting a trade war.

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US President Donald Trump and top Chinese trade negotiator Liu He

“The European Union has become very spoiled, other countries have become very spoiled because they’ve always gotten 100 percent of whatever they wanted from the United States,” Trump said.

Later he modified his comments, saying he believed the United States and China would be happy with their trade relations because of his tough approach.

Thursday’s face-to-face meeting with Liu shows Trump’s great interest in “trying to reach some remedies regarding unfair and illegal trading practices,” Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, told reporters earlier. “That’s what we want.”

Heading into this week’s meetings, China has indicated it would ease up on U.S. agriculture if the Trump administration rolls back criminal penalties on Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE – something Trump has already signaled he is willing to do, despite protests from both Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

Trump acknowledged he told Chinese President Xi Jinping he would look at easing the current 7-year ban on ZTE doing business with American companies after it was recently caught violating the terms of $1.19 billion penalty agreement announced last year. But he also defended his administration’s handling of the case.


“Don’t forget it was my administration, with my full knowledge, that put very, very strong clamps on ZTE,” Trump said. “It wasn’t President Obama. It wasn’t President Bush. It was me.”

However, the investigation that led to the record fine on ZTE was started during the Obama administration, even though the penalty for making illegal sales to Iran and North Korea was announced early in Trump’s tenure.

Obama administration officials said they spent two years making the case and were prepared to impose a $1.3 billion fine, but the Trump administration scaled it back.

“They did very bad things to our country. They did very bad things to our economy,” Trump continued. “The one thing I will say they also buy a very large portion of the parts for the phones that they make … from the United States. That’s a lot of business.”

“But anything we do with ZTE [is] just a small component of the overall deal,” Trump said. “I can only tell you this, we’re going to come out fine with China. Hopefully, China’s going to be happy. I think we will be happy.”

However, the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday unanimously approved an amendment to keep the sanctions in place, in one of sign of the difficulty Trump might have satisfying Xi on the issue.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also said Trump’s decision to use the sanctions on ZTE as a bargaining chip in negotiations with China was “deeply troubling.”

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“In essence, ZTE has repeatedly engaged in malign activity by deliberately misleading the government for years, all while attempting to deliver American technologies into the hands of state-sponsors of terrorism,” Flake said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Some observers fear that Trump — after promising to push for major changes in China’s industrial policies that put American companies at a disadvantage — is prepared now to settle for a short-term package aimed at significantly reducing the U.S. trade deficit with China, which increased last year to a record $375 billion.

Liu appears set to offer a two-year $200 billion-plus deficit reduction plan focused heavily on purchases of U.S. farm goods and energy products, but that would also shower dollars on as many as 20 other industry sectors, one source familiar with the talks said.

“It’s shaping up to be the art of the bad deal,” the source said. “The impression is the administration is caving or folding its tent after revving things up quite a bit.”

Liu’s visit comes as the Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to impose tariffs on around $50 billion worth of Chinese goods to pressure Beijing to do more to stop theft of American intellectual property and to change policies and practices that require U.S. companies to transfer technology to do business in China.

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China has responded to Trump’s tariff threat by vowing to strike back by raising duties on about $50 billion worth of agriculture, chemical and other goods.

In addition, Beijing has already imposed duties on about $3 billion of U.S. farm products, steel and other goods in response to Trump’s decision to slap an additional 25 percent duty on Chinese steel and 10 percent duty on Chinese aluminum.

U.S. officials initially told the Chinese that they’d be open to granting some relief from the pending tariffs in exchange for a commitment to reduce the trade deficit with China by $200 billion over two years, an administration official said Wednesday.

But the Chinese have countered with a proposal to buy $150 billion in U.S. products instead, though the talks are still very much in flux, the official said.

Neither the White House or the Treasury press office would comment on the prospects for the two sides to reach a deal that primarily involves Beijing writing a series of checks to make Trump happy, without addressing the systemic issues that drove Trump to threaten tariffs.

However, Kudlow indicated the U.S. still had a substantive list of demands it want Beijing to address.

Donald Trump Set to Sign Tariffs Decree Amid GOP Lawmakers’ Dissent

March 8, 2018

Plan would spare Canada and Mexico at the outset and they would remain exempt if new Nafta deal is reached

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump is expected to sign a decree this week laying out his plan to impose new tariffs on steel and aluminum, sparing both Canada and Mexico, after people on both sides of the issue made final pleas to either scuttle the measure or ensure he doesn’t back off.

At the White House on Wednesday, aides began preparations for the ceremony ushering in a turn in trade policy that could recalibrate relations between the U.S. and its allies and trading partners.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Warning of economic fallout, congressional Republicans and industry groups pressed President Donald Trump on Tuesday to narrow his plan for across-the-board tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum. Trump appeared unmoved, declaring, “Trade wars aren’t so bad.”

The president said he planned to move forward with special tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, contending the U.S. has long been “mistreated” in trade deals.

“We’re doing tariffs on steel. We cannot lose our steel industry. It’s a fraction of what it once was. And we can’t lose our aluminum industry,” Trump said during a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

Hours later, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, who has opposed the tariffs, announced his plans to depart the White House, another signal that the president intends to go through with the penalties.

The president’s pledge for action, which would be in line with a one of his campaign promises, came after House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin called for a “more surgical approach” that would help avert a potentially dangerous trade war. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said there was concern Trump’s plan could lead to such disruptive turmoil.

“We are urging caution,” McConnell said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he’s encouraged the White House may reconsider blanket tariffs on steel and aluminum as he urges President Donald Trump take a more “surgical” approach on China and other countries. (March 6)

Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, who opposes the tariffs, said after meeting Tuesday with White House chief of staff John Kelly that the administration was willing to consider his views. “Absolutely. There’s an openness now,” Perdue said.

“I think there’s been a step back,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “I don’t think he’s reconsidering, but I think he’s trying to figure out what his best step is forward.”

But those views sounded more like wishful thinking after Trump’s news conference, in which he reiterated his plans to impose the tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports. He said he’d respond to unfair treatment by foreign countries and huge trade deficits. “We’re going to straighten it out and we’ll do it in a very loving way,” Trump said.

The president also reaffirmed the possibility that Canada and Mexico might not face the tariffs if they are willing to offer more favorable terms under the North American Free Agreement, which is being renegotiated.

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and staff from the State Department and National Security Council will be meeting Wednesday with Mexico’s president and foreign minister in Mexico City.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers Trump was trying to balance protections for beleaguered steel and aluminum producers while “making sure that we don’t do undue harm to the economy.”

“We are not looking to get into trade wars. We are looking to make sure that U.S. companies can compete fairly around the world,” Mnuchin said at a House hearing.

Trump has been keenly aware of how the tariffs may play in a March 13 special House election in western Pennsylvania, part of the nation’s steel belt, White House officials have said. The president is headlining a Saturday rally in support of Rick Saccone, who is battling Democrat Conor Lamb in the Republican-leaning district.

The dispute over tariffs has exposed a rift between advocates of free trade, who have long dominated GOP circles, and a president who has railed against China and pushed for more protectionist trade policies.

Internally, White House officials who oppose the blanket tariffs have urged the administration to limit the countries that would be affected and to impose time limits. This would help the president say he delivered on his promise and still try to avoid possible negative consequences, said Stephen Moore, a former campaign adviser and now an economist with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Republicans in Congress and within Trump’s administration say industries and their workers who need steel and aluminum for their products would be hurt by Trump’s threatened tariffs. They say Americans will face higher costs for new cars, appliances and buildings if the president follows through on his threat and other nations retaliate.

Trump has said the tariffs are needed to preserve the American industries and protect national security. But he has also tried to use them as leverage in the current talks to revise NAFTA.

Business leaders are mobilizing against the tariffs. The Aluminum Association, a trade group representing 114 member companies with more than 700,000 U.S. jobs, told Trump in a letter Tuesday that it was “deeply concerned” about the effects of the planned tariffs and urged him to seek alternatives such as targeting China and other countries with a history of circumventing trade rules.

Ryan said Trump was correct to focus on the problem of the dumping of steel in the U.S. at lower prices. But he said the administration’s approach was “a little too broad and more prone to retaliation.”

“What we’re encouraging the administration to do is to focus on what is clearly a legitimate problem and to be more surgical in its approach,” Ryan said.

Republicans have suggested they may try to undercut the tariffs if Trump goes ahead with them. But Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he was doubtful the GOP majority would be able to muster the votes to pass legislation to block the special taxes.

Flake said it was tough to dissuade Trump because the president “keeps coming back like a homing pigeon on trade deficits.”

Mnuchin defended the possible tariffs, telling lawmakers that Trump “loves farmers and the farm community.” Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, responded, “It doesn’t seem so with some of the policies that are coming out.”

Mnuchin said the administration hopes to release details on the tariffs this week. “He does understand the potential impacts it has on the economy and I think we have a way of managing through this,” he said.


Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Kevin Freking, Martin Crutsinger and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.