Midterm elections could test GOP's patience with Trump's trade war

House Republicans have so far shown patience as President Trump prosecutes his trade war, but some say that patience could wear thin as the midterm elections approach.

House GOP lawmakers have made their opposition to the tariffs clear to Trump, but so far haven’t put any direct pressure on Trump to stand down through legislation. One reason for that is Trump’s ongoing popularity in some of the GOP strongholds they represent.

“I think quite a bit,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., when asked how much patience there is with the tariffs. “Look, the president’s popular in my district … I think they’ll give him a little leash and wait and see how things work out, probably through the election period.”

“They’re still inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it’s getting more difficult,” Cole said.

Trump months ago imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and claimed the move was needed to shore up national security. He’s also imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of goods from China, and threatened to hit another $200 billion worth of goods after China retaliated.

Retaliation from China, Europe, Mexico, and Canada has been aimed partly at products made in Republican states and districts, in a bid to pressure Trump to back down.

That kind of targeted retaliation has already prompted the Senate to hold a symbolic vote against Trump’s tariffs, but hasn’t persuaded any action in the House so far. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who sponsored the nonbinding Senate language opposing Trump’s trade policy, believes pressure will build when House lawmakers head home to their districts in August.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, each introduced legislation Wednesday echoing what Flake and Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., have been pushing for months. House leaders haven’t touched the bill yet, and as the summer winds down, lawmakers at this point seem torn between wanting a resolution to the trade fights, and giving Trump’s plan a chance to work.

“Yesterday, for me,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., when asked when he’d like to see results. “But for my producers, they probably have a better timeline.”

“There’s a lot of patience for this administration when it comes to trade in middle America, and I saw that,” Davis said.

But the approaching midterm election could change all that. Republicans are worried that the economic gains they made in the tax bill could be wiped out by the tariffs and that voters could take it out on them in November, and there’s a chance lawmakers return in September with a different view.

“If we’re having this discussion in September, it’s a different story,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who is running against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., for her Senate seat. “Does the leash get shorter faster the closer we get? I think it does.”

“Politically speaking, you’re talking about a lot of races that’ll be really, really close, and it could very well be the difference,” Cramer said.

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