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Utah political leaders join chorus of naysayers on Trump tariff terms

President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with steel and aluminum executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Thursday, March 1, 2018, in Washington. Trump's announcement that he will impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum has up
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with steel and aluminum executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Thursday, March 1, 2018, in Washington. Trump's announcement that he will impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum has upended political alliances on Capitol Hill.
Evan Vucci, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Most Utah political leaders aren't squeamish in expressing their distaste and concerns over President Donald Trump's plan to assess tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum to address international trade imbalances.

While the president's position on Monday still rang adamant about pushing forward with the new levies, Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who opposes the tariffs, told the Associated Press after a 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.

Later in the day Tuesday, Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn announced he was resigning from his White House position. The Associated Press reported the split resulted from Cohn's opposition to the president's tariff proposal.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has a record of effusive praise for Trump, but that showed some cracks Tuesday in comments Hatch made during a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

"Let’s set aside, just for a moment, all of the legitimate concerns about trade wars, the failure to target the source of steel and aluminum overcapacity, and the disproportionate effects on our major trading partners and allies," Hatch said. "In the end, these tariffs are not a tax on foreign steel and aluminum producers, but rather a tax on American citizens and businesses, who, if this action is finalized, will be forced to pay an additional 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum.

"Truly, there is a better way to address China’s actions than to impose a new, across-the-board tax on U.S. consumers and businesses just three short months after we passed comprehensive tax reform," Hatch said. "We can and should do better. And I will be sending the president a letter later today emphasizing just that."

On KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show" Tuesday morning, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, noted the proposal could very well place burdens not only on Trump's base constituency, but have much broader impacts.

"I think this would harm many of the same people who worked so hard to get him elected," Lee said. "I think it would be bad for American workers, bad for American consumers and, more than anyone, it would be bad for America’s middle class."

Lee said he'd also like to see the authority to regulate international trade move back into the federal legislative branch rather than residing, as it does currently, under the purview of the president.

"By putting all this power in the executive branch we make it too easy for presidents of either political party, now or in the future, to get us into a trade war," Lee said. "Trade wars have consequences. They end up killing people, they end up killing jobs. They are very harmful and we should worry about them."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert also waded into the tariff discussion during a media availability at the Utah Capitol Tuesday. Herbert said he'd recently attended a Deer Valley meeting of a group of Republican governors and "didn't hear from anybody that supported tariffs on steel and aluminum."

He also noted Utah's growing export economy could take a direct hit under Trump's tariff changes.

"I’m for free trade, but the emphasis on fair trade is not lost on me either," Herbert said. "We have very significant opportunities to deal internationally and so we’re at the forefront of this issue. And its part of why we’re a little concerned what this may do for the global economy and for us as a state."

Congresswoman Mia Love, R-Utah, got even more specific in a statement about potential Utah impacts in her 4th Congressional District.

"The president’s announcement regarding tariffs on steel and aluminum imports takes our economy backward, and U.S. consumers will pay the price," Love said. "In my district, for example, SME Steel, a steel fabricator, employs 1,800 people and would face potential layoffs if steel prices rise in the wake of new tariffs. The company forecasts that contractors, architects and engineers will be compelled to search for cheaper alternative materials in an effort to ensure financial feasibility in building projects.”

A Democrat challenging Love in this fall's election, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, in a statement to the Deseret News appears to agree with her.

"Utah's economy has benefited from global trade, including many businesses that export goods and services to international customers," McAdams said. "The president's proposed tariffs would, according to some estimates, result in 80 jobs lost for every one job gained if tariffs on steel and aluminum are imposed. The goal should be fair trade agreements with other countries that give Utah workers and businesses the opportunity to compete and prosper, not hastily and ill-conceived tariffs."

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said he could recognize the president may be using the tariff threat as a tactical move, but disagreed with his choice of approach.

"I think it's a bad idea," Stewart said. "It might be that Trump is using this as leverage on the NAFTA negotiations. Even still, though I might admire his negotiating tactics, and it actually might get us a better agreement, I still hate to see a core principle seemingly abandoned to further negotiations."

The state's newest member of the delegation, Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, issued a more supportive response, acknowledging that some sort of punitive action may be appropriate in a statement to the Deseret News.

“I support free trade," Curtis said. "It is important to support our manufacturers and consumers that rely on steel. With that said, I do support actions against bad actors to protect American interests.”

Congressman Rob Bishop also had a measured response to the Trump tariff effort in a statement.

"I have heard first-hand from steel companies like Nucor in my district the negative effects of unfair foreign government interference in the marketplace," Bishop said. "I support free trade, but free trade practiced by all parties."