STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Just as President Trump prepared to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, his top economic adviser quit. Gary Cohn had fought against protectionist policies. Many Republicans agree with Cohn, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: There is a lot of concern among Republican senators that this could sort of metastasize into a larger trade war.
INSKEEP: But there is some support for the tariffs and tougher trade policies on the other side of the aisle. Congressman Tim Ryan joins us next. He's a Democrat from Ohio. Good morning, Congressman.
TIM RYAN: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Thanks for coming by. Why would these tariffs be a good idea?
RYAN: Well, if it's targeted to the particular countries that have been cheating. The Chinese, for example, have been dumping steel into our markets for years. I've been in Congress 16 years, have been working on this issue the entire time. Their final product when it arrives on the shores of the United States is the same cost as the raw material cost for an American company trying to do the same thing. So they have a huge advantage - selling it cheap.
INSKEEP: So they're selling it cheap. OK. I understand that. But the problem is that when you impose tariffs, they're on products from anywhere in the world. And it's Germany or Canada who are saying, ow, what are you doing to us?
RYAN: Well, that's where you have to draw this distinction. And the president of the United States has to have some nuance, which this president obviously does not have. We shouldn't be putting tariffs on Canada or Germany. They have similar labor standards, similar environmental standards as we do. The Chinese do not, so they also have an inherent advantage there. If this is targeted, then this is an appropriate remedy to help the industry stay robust here in the United States.
INSKEEP: OK. So you don't like exactly what the president is doing. You might like a version of what the president is doing, but is that even possible? We had an aluminum company CEO on the program yesterday who said, look, it's a global market for aluminum. You either impose the tariff on everything or nothing.
RYAN: I think you can. I mean, here's the game that the Chinese play. They'll ship their steel to another country, and then that country will ship it in. So if you put it on to the Chinese, they can find a way to get around it.
INSKEEP: Send it through Canada or something.
RYAN: So you have to be more sophisticated. But if the Canadians and these other folks are on notice that, OK, we're putting it on the Chinese now, this is part of the diplomatic process. I mean, this is the problem with President Trump. He didn't tell anybody. He didn't start notifying our allies. He didn't start saying, hey, in 10 days, this is what's going to happen. He sends out a tweet, and the stock market drops 500 points. There is a legitimate fairness argument here that we need to do this for the companies who are breaking the law. They're cheating, and we have to do this. He needs to do it in a more sophisticated way.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask if these tariffs can work at all because I understand you're from Ohio. You're from a traditional steel-making state. You want to protect steel jobs. Stephen Moore, conservative economist who has advised President Trump, doesn't think these tariffs are a good idea and tells us what's going to happen is all the products made in America with steel and aluminum are just going to get more expensive, and it's going to be harder for American cars or other products to compete around the world. Couldn't this actually cost American jobs?
RYAN: I don't think so. Part of what we have to look at - yes, this is economic. There is also a military and defense application for what we're doing here. We have to be able to supply our own military. And just in the last decade or so, we've lost - I don't know - five, six, seven, eight aluminum companies. We can't rely on Vladimir Putin's steel - or even South Korea, for that matter - to supply our own military. So yes, there may be some economic arguments. Yes, maybe this is going to have an effect on the market - lots of things do. But as the United States, we've got to have the capabilities of supplying our own military.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about the politics of this because you have been one of the voices in your party arguing that you want Democrats to re-win the votes of blue-collar voters. Politically, would it be good for the Democratic Party on this issue to stand with President Trump?
RYAN: I think yes if you're coming from areas like ours. I think you need to have an appreciation for what has happened. I mean, our communities have been hollowed out. I mean, people who come to places like Youngstown or Flint, Mich., or some other areas of the Great Lakes states, industrial Midwest, we've been hollowed out by Chinese steel dumping. And we've had steel workers lose their jobs.
If we want to connect with these people, we have to understand that there needs to be some remedy for them. Look. I just brought 12 venture capitalists from Silicon Valley into my region for future jobs. You can do both, but you have to have a defense industrial base and say we need to have this manufacturing in our country and make sure there's remedies for the countries that are cheating.
INSKEEP: Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio. Thanks for coming by.
RYAN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.