CEDAR RAPIDS — Sen. Chuck Grassley was not encouraged by what he heard from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross at a Wednesday morning Finance Committee hearing.
What Grassley gathered from Ross’ testimony and an earlier meeting at the White House is that there will be no de-escalation of trade tensions because the Trump administration thinks the United States can outlast China in a trade war.
His take-away from that White House meeting was that if China imposes retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods, the Trump administration will impose more tariffs.
“And if they put on more tariffs, we’ll put on more tariffs,” Grassley said. “Let’s say that goes back three or four times, the conclusion, with regard to China, is that because we export only about a third of what they export to us, they need us worse than we need them and soon they will, in a sense, surrender.”
Those were not the exact words used at the White House briefing, he added.
“So that’s the attitude that’s coming out of the White House, so I don’t see a de-escalation,” Grassley told reporters Wednesday. “We may never see a de-escalation because China is the second-largest economy in the world and might have more staying power than the president has concluded they have.”
Ross seemed to confirm that outlook with his pronouncement that “we’ve been at a trade war forever.”
The rest of Ross’ testimony was no more encouraging to Grassley. Ross told senators the Commerce Department has issued determinations on 98 requests for exceptions from steel and aluminum tariffs, granting 42 and denying 56. The Commerce Department will accelerate the process of reviewing those requests.
Grassley said he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
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“It sounds to me like we’ve got a government-run American mercantilist economy compared to our free-market economy that we all brag about,” he told Ross.
He was referring to the past practice in Europe that promoted governmental regulation of the economy to supplement the state’s power at the expense of rival national powers.
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