Odd political alliances form in N.H. reaction to Trump tariff threats 

For the Monitor
Monday, March 05, 2018

They don’t see eye to eye on a host of issues, but when it comes to President Donald Trump’s controversial threat to slap stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan are on the same page.

“As the Granite State’s top trading partner, Canada plays an integral role in New Hampshire’s economy. Governor Sununu does not support imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum,” Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt said in a statement to the Monitor Monday.

Shaheen was more blunt.

“Slapping on tariffs that are going to have unintended consequences that are going to set off a trade war is absolutely not in the interests of New Hampshire or the United States,” the Granite State’s senior U.S. senator said in an interview with the Monitor.

“I think this is a misguided proposal. I hope he’s going to change it because we have a lot of jobs at stake,” Shaheen added.

New Hampshire’s other U.S. senator, fellow Democrat Maggie Hassan, suggested that the president “didn’t thoroughly evaluate the implications of this action.”

“We need to hold China accountable, but I am concerned that overly broad tariffs like these will do more harm than good for American workers and our economy, and that these actions will lead to a trade war that could negatively impact a wide range of New Hampshire businesses,” Hassan said in a statement.

Last week, the president said he would slap a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports. He said in a tweet that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”

While Trump’s been all over the map on some issues, such as gun control, on trade he has been extremely consistent. On the presidential campaign trail in 2015 and 2016, including during frequent stops in New Hampshire, then-candidate Trump criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement signed into law by President Bill Clinton and railed against unfair practices by America’s trading partners.

On a scorching-hot June day in 2016, Trump stood outside the shuttered Osram Sylvania plant in Manchester and declared that New Hampshire had lost 31 percent of its manufacturing jobs since NAFTA.”

Trump doubled down on his tariff threat Monday, saying “we’re not backing down.”

The president said the U.S. had been “ripped off” by other countries on trade. “We lost $800 billion on trade. We are going to take care of it.”

Trump said Mexico and Canada could avoid the threatened stiff tariffs if they ceded ground in talks on a new NAFTA trade deal.

“We had a very bad deal with Mexico. We had a very bad deal with NAFTA,” Trump said.

Democratic congressman John Delaney of Maryland agreed that “strengthening our trade agreements is a good idea.”

But Delaney, the only declared candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, called Trump’s tariff threat “a bad idea.”

Speaking with the Monitor in Londonderry after a roundtable discussion with local Democrats, Delaney said the president’s tariffs plan is half-baked.

“I think the president basically doesn’t understand that the framework we put in place since World War II to build economic and security alliances around the world has fundamentally made us safer and more prosperous,” Delaney said. “That doesn’t mean there’s not room to improve them. There is. But he’s basically throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and he’s doing it for political reasons and it’s going to hurt the American people.”

Canada is by far New Hampshire’s top trading partner, according to state government statistics, with nearly 40,000 jobs in the Granite State dependent on that trade.

And that’s got congresswoman Annie Kuster worried.

“Industries such as brewing and auto parts manufacturing, which support thousands of Granite State jobs, could be impacted,” the Democrat from Hopkinton said.

“I am concerned that this action by the president could negatively affect a number of other manufacturing industries and is not a substitution for the comprehensive reforms necessary to ensure that our trading partners are not undermining free and fair trade” Kuster added.

But Levi Sanders, the newest Democratic candidate in the state’s 1st Congressional District agreed with the president.

The son of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said the tariffs are “a very good idea.”

“For someone who’s been in a union for 23 years, I can tell you definitely that folks that I talked to overall think it’s a good idea,” Sanders said in an interview with the Monitor.

Republican state Rep. Al Baldasaro, as usual, was outspoken in his support of Trump’s plan.

“I disagree with the governor and I agree with the president,” said Baldasaro, who was a top surrogate and adviser to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in New Hampshire.

“If these countries are charging us a tariff on our goods that are coming into Canada from New Hampshire, why shouldn’t we be charging them a tariff for their goods coming into New Hampshire or anywhere in the United States,” Baldasaro said. “That’s a no-brainer. We’re being screwed over. Wake up.”

While Baldasaro had Trump’s back, the president’s tariff threats, along with a proposal to include more offshore drilling, and statements on gun control, may have put him at odds with many Republican lawmakers in Washington and across the country.

“It not surprising to see Republican members of Congress and Gov. Sununu disagree with President Trump,” said Dean Spiliotes, a civic scholar in Southern New Hampshire University’s School of Arts and Sciences.