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Sen. Sasse: U.S. needs more trade, not ‘bellicose threatening’

The Trump administration moved on Tuesday to mitigate for U.S. farmers the economic damage of the president's escalating trade war with allies and China, announcing $12 billion in emergency relief. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., says that whenever you’re having a trade war, something is going wrong. “When there’s more trade in the world, Americans win.” Sasse joins Judy Woodruff for more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump's escalating trade war with U.S. allies and China comes with a cost.

    Today, the Trump administration moved to mitigate the damage to one group, U.S. farmers. The Department of Agriculture announced that it will provide $12 billion in emergency relief to offset the losses created by tariffs.

    Speaking before a group of Veterans of Foreign Wars, Mr. Trump argued that his trade strategy is working.

  • President Donald Trump:

    You have to see these trade deals I'm working on. They're a disaster. We're losing hundreds of billions of dollars with individual countries a year. We're making tremendous progress. They're all coming.

    They don't want to have those tariffs put on them. They're all coming to see us. And the farmers will be the biggest beneficiary. Watch.


  • President Donald Trump:

    We're opening up markets. You watch what's going to happen. Just be a little patient.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Critics of the president's plan were quick to respond to the aid announcement, with some of the harshest comments coming from members of his own party.

    I spoke with one of them, Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and asked for his response to Mr. Trump's claims of success.

  • Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.:

    Whenever you're having a trade war, something is going wrong, because when there's more trade in the world, Americans wins.

    Frankly, our trading partners win as well, because trade is a win-win. But when you have tariffs, they're going to lead to more tariffs, which lead to more tariffs, which lead to more tariffs, which all means less trade, which means Americans lose. We lose as consumers and we lose as producers.

    I think it's really important on that quote that you played from the president. The American people really need to understand what a bilateral trade deficit is. We have had one with Mexico for 40 years in a row. And what that means is, they sell us more stuff, and we sell them more services, or they invest in the United States.

    So, regularly, the president obsesses over bilateral trade product deficits, where, oftentimes, it's not a problem at all. And with Mexico and the U.S., we have had win-win for 40 years in a row.

    Now, with China, we got different problems. And he's right about part of that. But that quote, that doesn't really represent what's happening in trade. That's going to lead to less trade. And that means America loses.

    We want more America winning.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, will this $12 billion, though, that the administration is announcing today in help to farmers, will that make difference?

  • Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.:


    So, first of all, we should just back up and recognize that American farmers in general, but especially Nebraskan farmers and ranchers, I live in the most productive state in the history of agriculture right now. Our people feed the world. They don't want bailouts. They want more trade.

    And so, when you have tariffs, they're a bad thing. And then you try to solve them with bailouts, another bad thing, you're not heading in a good direction. You're trying to make America 1929 again. And that's not what the people in the state I represent want.

    We want to feed the world. We want more markets. We want more trade.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me quote the head of the National Pork Producers Council, who said today, "Yes, this is a tough time." But he said, "I commend the president for taking steps to provide much needed relief to farmers who are in the crosshairs of this trade war."

  • Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.:

    Well, I appreciate people trying to make the best lemonade they can out of a bad situation.

    And so what you hear a lot of ag groups doing is needing to distinguish between the short term and the medium and the long term. And we should be focused on the medium and the long term. And what we want is more trade.

    And you really can't find pork producers or corn growers or bean guys or cattlemen around the world, around the U.S., you can't find people who think this is a great moment for America. They think we sit on the precipice of something really dangerous. They want more trade. And, right now, the administration's war approach is leading to more brinksmanship and more tariffs.

    We can do better than this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you believe — or let me ask this way. Do you think the president is feeling political pressure on this? Are you and other senators, other members of Congress going to the White House to try to change his mind?

  • Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.:

    So, I talk to the president regularly about stuff like this.

    One of the things I want to commend the president for is, he definitely has a listening ear. He's always willing to talk with you. And he and I have a pretty healthy wrestling match on these topics. We obviously don't see eye to eye on trade. I'm arguably the most pro-free trade senator in this body.

    So, we don't see eye to eye. But he is willing to listen. The problem is, he's really obsessed about bilateral trade deficits. And he thinks, if you have a trade product deficit, that it's like a real estate transaction that went wrong and somebody took advantage of you.

    That's not usually what it means. It usually means one country might be selling us goods, and we're selling them services, or they're making investments.

    And so the president listens, but, right now, the approach isn't heading in the right direction.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you don't see a sign that he may be changing his mind in any way or backing off in any way? And the other part of my question is, any chance of that Congress might pass some sort of — might move to enhance its own free trade authority?

  • Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.:

    Yes, we should do that.

    So, I support lots of different legislative vehicles that would claw back powers that belong to the Congress. So, when we go back and do Constitution 101, it says right in their, Article 1, which is the Congress — Article 2 is the executive branch — Article 1 has the power of tariffs.

    Article 1 has the power of trade negotiation. And this institution, frankly, is really, really impotent. For about 80 years in a row, you have a bunch of people in Congress, both House and Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, who frankly love their incumbency more than they like making hard choices.

    And so people in this body have just punted power to the executive branch for a really long time. The things the president is doing, they're ill-advised, but they're not illegal, because the Congress has been doing what's called statutory delegation to give the president executive powers for these negotiations.

    We should take those powers back. And the Congress should start doing some of the tough business of why the people sent us here. We should be opening up more markets. And we should have more trade.

    Right now, the president's approach is leading us in the wrong direction.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, finally, just to come back to today's move by the Department of Agriculture, this $12 billion in aid, you're saying that is not going to make any difference at all?

  • Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.:

    Well, so, you look at being farmers, for instance.

    All across the country, we have bean prices at 10-year lows. And we have lots of farmers in my state. They have been in my office three consecutive weeks. I have heard from lots of them at home heading to he church and heading to the store and little league over this weekend.

    And you have bean farmers that are really scared, because those producers are looking at current stock market prices that are less than their cost of production, let alone making any money to pay for their kids' food. They're looking at losing money.

    And so that this number, $12 billion, it's an attempt to put a Band-Aid on a problem that's much, much larger. The bean losses alone are nearly $12 billion just this year. And that's just one product area.

    Trade wars don't work. Trade wars are never won. They're always lost by both sides. And we need more trade, not more bellicose threatening about tariffs.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, as of now, no signs that this is a policy that's going to change.

    But, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, we thank you.

  • Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.:

    Thanks for the invite.

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