During a stop in Lubbock, Texas, earlier this month, Sen. John Cornyn appeared to dismiss the economic pain the Trump administration’s trade wars have caused to U.S. farmers, saying — incorrectly — there was nothing Congress could do to defuse tensions between Washington and its trading partners.
“There’s some things you can control, but there’s a lot of things you can’t control,” Cornyn, R-Texas, said April 5 during a visit with cotton farmers. “You can’t control the weather. You can’t control international disputes or trade wars.”
Trump kicked off his trade wars — which he predicted would be “easy to win” — last spring by slapping tariffs on billions of dollars in Chinese imports and imposing tariffs on aluminum and steel, dealing economic blows to allies like Canada and South Korea.
That has led to retaliatory tariffs on American exports, including Texas exports like cotton, corn and sorghum, that have squeezed farmers and ranchers as well as companies importing goods around the Lone Star State.
The Dallas Morning News reported in January that Tariffs Hurt the Heartland, a coalition of business and farm groups, estimated that companies in the state paid $1.1 billion in additional levies due to Trump’s tariffs through October.
However, there are a litany of tactics available to Congress.
For instance, Cornyn could sign onto one of several bills that would curb the president’s powers to impose tariffs on national security grounds, including one from fellow Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, whose legislation would require the Defense Department — instead of the Commerce Department — to sign off on them.
Cornyn could also join another fellow Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa in warning Trump that his deal with Canada and Mexico — known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement — to replace NAFTA wouldn’t get through Congress if he didn’t end the trade dispute.
“If these tariffs aren’t lifted, USMCA is dead,” Grassley wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Sunday. “There is no appetite in Congress to debate USMCA with these tariffs in place.”
Meanwhile, Texas farmers suffer.
In August, the Austin American-Statesman reported that farmers like Jay Wilder, who grows rain sorghum in Snook is having to place a third of his crops in storage, because Trump’s trade wars are driving down the prices of the crop.
“Initially, on the front end, yeah, it’s going to hurt. But you hope it’s just a one-time deal, and it works itself back out,” Wilder said. “It’s just kind of frustrating that agriculture gets thrown in, whether it’s on Trump’s side or the Chinese side. We’re kind of used as a pawn in the deal.”