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This Koch-funded advocacy group wants Trump to embrace free trade

The conservative, libertarian political advocacy group funded by David and Charles Koch is undertaking a multi-million dollar campaign opposing President Trump's trade policies. John Yang talks with Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, who says the president deserves a lot of credit for the current economy, but that the recent trade tariffs risk undermining those gains.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The rising U.S. trade tensions, not only with China, but also those with longtime U.S. allies Canada, Mexico and the European Union, have sent ripples across the political landscape in this country.

    John Yang gets reaction about all of this from one of the biggest and most influential forces in Republican politics, as the midterm elections approach.

  • John Yang:

    Americans for Prosperity, a conservative libertarian political advocacy group funded by David and Charles Koch, is undertaking a multimillion-dollar campaign opposing President Trump's trade policies.

    Tim Phillips is the group's president. He joins me now.

    Mr. Phillips, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Tim Phillips:

    Absolutely.

  • John Yang:

    You supported the president on his tax cuts.

  • Tim Phillips:

    Right.

  • John Yang:

    You were full of praise, the letter to the president before the G7, full of praise for what he's done with the economy.

  • Tim Phillips:

    Right.

  • John Yang:

    What's the message on trade to the president?

  • Tim Phillips:

    The president rightly deserves a lot of credit for this economy taking off. The data clearly indicates it's doing much better.

    But his trade or his protectionist policies, his tariffs, risk undermining the economic recovery that the tax cuts and tax reform and the elimination of a lot of job-killing regulation and red tape, it risks undermining that.

    So, we're urging him to drop these tariffs, embrace free trade, and let's keep this economic recovery going that's helping a lot of Americans improve their lives.

  • John Yang:

    Have you heard back from the White House? Do you talk at all with the people within the Trump administration?

  • Tim Phillips:

    We do. We have consistent discussions with them.

    Obviously, they disagree so far. They feel — initially, they were saying, well, these potential tariffs are more of a negotiating tool. But now they have actually begun taking effect. And now we're seeing retaliation from other folks, including some of our allies, like the Canadians, for example, on most issues are allies of ours, and obviously with the Chinese.

    And these tariffs, they sound good. A lot of politicians, John, like them. They sound tough, you know, when you're doing tariffs. But they're being tough on American businesses and consumers. A lot of American companies, like saw the coverage of American-made lockers, steel is the number one ingredient.

    Well, the price of steel is going up because of these tariffs. That is hurting American jobs.

  • John Yang:

    You — there seems to be some disagreement within the administration, though, as well, that there's some factions in the administration apparently would agree with you.

    Have you been hearing from those — those voices?

  • Tim Phillips:

    Larry Kudlow, the president's chief economic adviser, prior to going into the administration, just a few short weeks ago, was very much in agreement with us that tariffs are a bad idea, that free trade, embracing free trade is better.

    Once he entered the White House, he still talked about how the tariffs are a negotiating tool. So, there is — we do think there's a lot of disagreement within the administration.

    And we're hopeful the president — you know, he said at the G7 summit that he would love to see all the tariffs gotten rid of. We take him at his word on that. We would urge him to embrace that, because this trade war that is already happening — it's not being discussed anymore — it's now happening — it risks undermining the very good work that his administration is doing with the tax cuts and tax reforms and the other steps they have taken that have helped get the economy moving again.

    We don't want to see that.

  • John Yang:

    You have differed with the president, your organization has differed with the president on other policies, particularly on immigration.

    What's your view or your group's view of the current debate over separating children at the border?

  • Tim Phillips:

    This current situation that we're seeing is not good. And, frankly, both parties deserve blame.

    It's been kicked around like a political football for well over a decade. I remember George W. Bush as president putting forward a serious immigration proposal that Congress rejected. President Obama had Democrat majorities his first two years. He did nothing on immigration to really fix this.

    President Trump early on made some moves to the Democrats. We applauded those. But this is something, John, that both parties deserve blame for.

  • John Yang:

    This campaign focusing on trade issues, trade and tariff issues, as we go into the midterm elections, does this represent a shift in the — sort of the strategy of the Koch brothers, moving from talking about specific candidates — the Koch brothers' contributions were very influential in cementing the House majority for the Republicans — to turning more to issue-oriented campaign?

  • Tim Phillips:

    We want to work with folks across the board to pass policies that will help improve people's lives.

    Immigration — and you mentioned that — is one example of that. We believe that trade is another one. A lot of folks on the far left, like Bernie Sanders, they embrace protectionism and tariffs. So, we want to work with folks across the board. We just did that on an issue, right to try, which you have covered, that allows terminally ill patients to — access to new treatments.

    That was a bipartisan effort. We thanked Democrats openly. You know, Senator Heitkamp, who is in an election this year, we thanked her for the work she did helping roll back portions of Dodd-Frank, which was harming community banks and loaning to small businesses.

    So, we're not an appendage of any political party. We have made that clear. And we're not going to be. And we're going to thank Democrats or Republicans when they do the right thing. And, frankly, we're going to hold them accountable when we think they're going the wrong thing. That's the best way to do it.

    And we — that's the process we're going to follow.

  • John Yang:

    How active will the organization be in the midterm?

  • Tim Phillips:

    We have said we're going to be very active across the board. Now, that includes at the state level and the federal level.

    But we will be active. And we, though, look at every individual candidate as just that, an individual candidate. We try not to look at party and other things like that. We look at who are genuinely putting forward policies, championing policies that will help improve people's lives.

  • John Yang:

    And, of course, the news within the last week about David Koch, because of health reasons, stepping back from both his businesses and his political activities, is that going to make any change, do you think, in your organization?

  • Tim Phillips:

    It's a blow.

    David Koch has provided sterling leadership from the very beginning as the chairman of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. And you don't replace a David Koch. You work together to do the best you can.

    But we wish David and Julia and his family all the best. But it's absolutely a blow to lose a leader of his example and capability.

  • John Yang:

    Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, thanks for joining us.

  • Tim Phillips:

    You bet.

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