Ratcheting up what’s quickly turned into a tit-for-tat on trade, President Donald Trump on Thursday authorized U.S. trade officials to identify up to $100 billion in possible additional tariffs on imported goods from China, after the Chinese earlier this week had said they planned to levy $50 billion in import duties on American goods, in retaliation for U.S tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum.
“For many years, no President wanted to go against China economically,” the President told an audience during an event in West Virginia on Thursday afternoon.
“We’re going to do it,” Mr. Trump added, as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer endorsed the President’s decision.
“President Trump is proposing an appropriate response to China’s recent threat of new tariffs,” said Lighthizer in a statement.
The new tariff announcement by the President came amid growing bipartisan alarm in the Congress – especially in the Senate – where lawmakers in both parties have significant farm interests in their states.
“Hopefully the President is just blowing off steam again but, if he’s even half-serious, this is nuts,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), who said Mr. Trump is “threatening to light American agriculture on fire.”
“This is what happens when the President of the United States engages in reckless rhetoric at the expense of strategic policy-making,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
“A full-fledged trade war with our largest trading partner will raise prices and reduce exports,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).
The latest White House trade announcement came soon after Republicans in the House announced hearings for next week on the President’s tariff moves, amid concerns that it could temper the economic boost from tax cuts approved at the end of last year.
“I am committed to listening to U.S. job creators every step of the way to make sure we make all appropriate adjustments to avoid unintended negative consequences to the U.S. economy,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Top officials tried to assure farm state lawmakers that all would be okay.
“The President has assured me he won’t let our farmers bear the brunt of China’s retaliation,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
But farm groups – a key GOP constituency – were clearly unnerved, even before this latest announcement.
“There is no winner in a Trade War,” said Blake Hurst, the head of the Missouri Farm Bureau.