After Trump promises tariffs to curb migration, McCarthy won’t say if they’ll work

U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tours WSU Tech on Friday in Wichita.
U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tours WSU Tech on Friday in Wichita. The Wichita Eagle

The day after President Donald Trump announced a 5 percent tariff on imports from Mexico in an effort to reduce migration along the southern border, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wouldn’t say whether he believes the trade action will be successful.

McCarthy’s comments illustrate the challenges Trump faces in keeping Republican lawmakers onboard with his tough-on-trade approach. Farmers and others are already experiencing pain from an ongoing trade war with China and a dispute with Mexico would only add to those pressures.

Trump’s negotiation of a new trade pact between the United States, Canada and Mexico had been a bright spot. But a Thursday night tweet by Trump announcing new tariffs rattled markets and introduced fresh turbulence into the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

Asked Friday whether tariffs against Mexican imports will reduce migration, McCarthy responded by blaming Democrats for inaction in addressing a surge of migrants from Central American countries and called on Congress to act.

“Everybody in America realizes the crisis that we have right now except those who are sitting on the other side of aisle in Congress,” McCarthy said in Wichita following a tour of WSU Tech, a career technical education college.

Kansas stands to suffer if Mexico announces retaliatory tariffs. The state exported $2.1 billion in goods to Mexico in 2018. Mexico is Kansas’s largest export market, comprising 18 percent of the state’s total exports, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

McCarthy, a California Republican, also hails from a state with a rich export market to Mexico. The country is also California’s top market, with the state exporting $30.7 billion in goods to Mexico last year.

With his remarks Friday, McCarthy joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in equivocating on Trump’s tariff announcement. In a statement, McConnell called the situation at the southern border a humanitarian crisis and called on Democrats to act.

“As our third biggest trading partner, a healthy and vibrant economic relationship with Mexico is a vital source of our joint prosperity. Any proposal that impacts this relationship deserves serious examination and I look forward to discussing this plan in greater detail with my colleagues and the administration,” McConnell said.

A 5 percent tariff on imports from Mexico will begin on June 10 and gradually rise “until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied,” Trump said in a series of tweets.

Trump’s announcement came as his administration seeks to move forward on a revamped trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, on Thursday criticized the Trump administration for prematurely sending Congress a draft statement of administrative action on the proposed U.S., Mexico, Canada trade deal. The document takes Congress closer to ratifying the deal.

Democrats have raised problems with the deal, and Pelosi said they were not finished working with the U.S. trade representative on it.

“We all agree that we must replace NAFTA, but without real enforcement mechanisms we would be locking American workers into another bad deal. A new trade agreement without enforcement is not progress for the American worker, just a press release for the President,” Pelosi said.

“We have been on a path to yes, but it must be a path that leads to an agreement that delivers positive results for American workers and farmers.”

McCarthy said the agreement will make all three countries stronger, and called it a modernization of NAFTA, a predecessor of the new agreement adopted in the 1990s.

“It’s a more-level playing field. America is going to win in this,” McCarthy said.

Rep. Ron Estes, a Wichita Republican, said he was pleased the statement had been delivered. The Canadian and Mexican governments have already made progress toward the standards in the new agreement.

“Now is the time for Congress to finalize the (agreement) to support our farmers, manufacturers and entire economy,” he said.

Lesley Clark of McClatchy DC contributed to this story