Republican Sen. Cory Gardner says he has encouraged President Donald Trump to end the trade war with China.
Gardner said in an interview Tuesday with CPR's Bente Birkeland that he talked to Trump last week and that he supports putting guardrails on a president's ability to impose tariffs. That, he said, would make it easier for companies in the U.S. to know what is coming next.
"It is tough for businesses to plan and that’s why we need to have a resolution. And that’s why I have from day one even before, long before they went into effect said 'Hey, you can’t do this. Don’t move forward on this,'" Gardner said. "And that’s why I support efforts to take that power back by Congress."
Gardner said his own family's farm supply business has been impacted by steel tariffs.
|Ryan Warner: Republican Cory Gardner's senate seat is considered one of the most important in the 2020 election. It could reshape the balance of power in the U.S. senate. Gardner says he's ready for the fight to keep it. It's one of several issues CPR Public Affairs reporter Bente Birkeland discussed with him starting with the impacts tariffs are having on Colorado.|
Birkeland: So you've spent time over the August recess meeting with Colorado business owners across the state, touring the Eastern Plains, and what did you hear from them about the growing trade war with China?
Gardner: We hear a lot of great things about businesses and entrepreneurship and ideas that people are acting on because of the tax cuts that have allowed them to keep more money in their own pocket to make investments that they wouldn't have previously. When it comes to tariffs and the trade war, particularly in agriculture, commodity prices were low before the trade war started, and unfortunately the tariffs have not allowed them to regain a footing.
Gardner: That's why I oppose the tariffs, and that's why I continued to try to find a solution that involves more trade opportunities, a more open trade without tariffs, to surround China and the bad actions that they have with a significant portion of the global economy so that they can't pick our friends off and try to undermine us. And this isn't just an interest of the United States to make sure that China behaves good. It's an interest of the entire world to make China behave fairly when it comes to trade. I think the tariffs approach is the wrong way to do it, but we ought to continue our efforts to change their bad behavior while opening up Colorado opportunities.
Birkeland: And so would you push President Trump to find a trade deal sooner rather than later?
Gardner: I have already pushed President Trump to find a trade deal sooner rather than later. I've been meeting with the groups of senators over at the White House for well over a year and a half, bringing people like Sen. Ernst and Sen. Fisher to ag states, Sen. Graham and Sen. Alexander, more manufacturing based states, to the White House to talk about how we need a trade agreement. We need to enter into things like the Transpacific Partnership. We ought to have a European free trade agreement. I passed a bill called the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, and the president signed it into law on December 31 of this past year. And in that legislation, it directs the administration to pursue multilateral and bilateral trade agreements, hopefully the first of which we're starting to see with Japan.
Birkeland: Should American companies follow his command or order to pull manufacturing out of China?
Gardner: Look, American companies need to have an environment in the United States that allows them to do their work here, but we're not going to dictate to them where they end up working. That's I think something that probably my opponents would like to do is to dictate to businesses what they have to do and where they can work. I want to create jobs in the United States, but we can do that by making the United States more competitive, having a tax code that works. Unfortunately, most of my opponents want to increase taxes and have the most historic tax increase in the history of this country. That's not the way you're going to make this country more competitive. If we want jobs back in the United States, we have to do it by making the U.S. more competitive, not less competitive.
Birkeland: Is there a way to make the process to exclude your products from tariffs simplified, less bureaucratic with so much uncertainty? Were you hearing complaints about that?
Gardner: Oh gosh, so about a year ago, our family business, which is a farm equipment dealership, got a letter from one of our suppliers, manufacturing tillage equipment, so making sweeps and chisel points and V blades. And this letter simply said that due to the steel tariffs, the price of these goods will increase by 25 percent. Farmers are price takers. They're not price makers. They can't turn around and say, "Well, if I'm getting charged more for a chisel point, then I'll just get more for my bushel of corn." It doesn't work that way. They're going to get at the same amounts for a bushel of corn as they were before the tariffs. And so that eats into their ability to make ends meet.
Gardner: For our family business, it's the same kind of thing. I took this letter and I shared it with the commerce department and I said to Secretary Ross, "There are thousands of businesses across this country that are getting letters similar to this from their supplier, whether it's a chisel point or a rebar in a construction project. What are we going to do about it?" And the response was, "Well, they can ask for an exclusion or exemption."
Gardner: Well, in a business that has maybe 10 employees, there is no international law department. There is no international tax program or import export division that's going to be able to figure that out. It's not easy to figure this out. It's very difficult, complex, especially for small businesses that don't have a thousands of lawyers that they can turn to, thousands of accountants that can help them with this and that's why it needs to end. Look, we got to stand up to China, but I certainly don't support the tariffs and think it's a way to go, and I certainly don't think the exclusion process is easy.
Birkeland: In the past, you've talked about presidential use of executive authority and you've criticized Barack Obama. How do you feel about President Trump? He's certainly using his executive authority liberally.
Gardner: Well, if you look at the past several presidents, whether that's President Trump, President Obama, President Bush, President Clinton, all of them have expanded the use of executive power and I think it comes at the expense of the legislative branch and it certainly comes at the expense of the balance of rights and powers in our constitution. And that's why I've introduced and co-sponsored legislation with Sen. Mike Lee to require congressional approval of things like tariffs. It's like a reigns act, so to speak, for tariffs. I think we do have to reign in these powers and it's unfortunately something that both Republicans and Democrat presidents have done.
Birkeland: Switching to the BLM, you were instrumental in getting the BLM headquarters moved from Washington D.C. to Grand Junction, and members of Congress, as you're aware, are now expressing concerns, some of them, that this move will lead to less transparency, and not as much interaction between BLM officials and members of Congress and make the agency less effective.
Gardner: I'm somebody who believes in the power of people to make decisions in the community that they regulate. And I think they'll end up making better decisions as a result of being in that community. I'm sure some of the people who are opposed to this would have loved to have the BLM headquarters in their states and their districts and they didn't. Maybe a part of this is that they're just upset that it didn't come to their district. But to think that only Washington can communicate and send emails and make phone calls is pretty arrogant. I think that if you're a public land employee and you don't want to live and work in the public lands that you manage and oversee, then maybe you should find a different way to work and maybe you don't belong in the public land management agency.
Gardner: I think we're going to have better decisions. We're going to have better access. If you're an environmentalist, you're going to have better access to the director of the BLM. If you're an energy advocate, you're going to have better access to the BLM. If you're a farmer or rancher who wants to graze cattle, they're going to have better access to the BLM. We will have better, more responsive decision makings and a stronger public land protection because of this move.
Birkeland: Are you concerned that some of the people, for whatever reasons, family reasons, life situations, aren't going to move from D.C. to Grand Junction? Do you think that'll be a loss of brain power or could it be time for some new people at the top?
Gardner: I know some of the people have argued that there's just not smart enough people in the west to have the BLM headquarters. That's just absurd. Colorado's one of the highest educated states in the country, and to think that only Washington has the workforce that can do this job is just wrong. And so I hope that people will be able to find that they can live in Grand Junction cheaper, better, and have one hell of a front yard view that they didn't have in Washington D.C.
Birkeland: So initially, not a ton of jobs. What do you foresee in the future?
Gardner: Yeah, you've got several dozen jobs that will be moving to Grand Junction. Grand Junction is going to be able to say that they are the gateway to public lands in the United States, that they are the home to the largest public land management agency. Colorado will be able to say the same thing, and there are dozens and dozens of jobs that are moving to Colorado now, and over time that will grow. I've talked to the secretary of interior about this. He has said the same.
Gardner: We'll also see people who are traveling from across the country, across the west in particular to visit Grand Junction that will be staying in hotels, that will be eating at Grand Junction restaurants. There will be ancillary businesses that will begin and Grand Junction is going to be able to market itself for new manufacturing centers and the outdoor economy and other kinds of businesses to relocate to Grand Junction because of this headquarters.
Birkeland: The headwinds aren't in your favor right now in Colorado. The president is not extremely popular. Democrats swept in 2018. Where does that leave you? We're about what, 14 months out?
Gardner: Well, look, I am very interested to see what happens in the primary on the left. Today is a day where there seems to be a tremendous division on the democratic side. People are protesting the democrat senatorial committee. People aren't happy with what's happened and the way that the race is unfolding on the left. 14 months is going be a challenging time for them to figure this out, but I'm going to spend my time focusing on results for the people of Colorado.
Gardner: If you look at the hundreds of millions of dollars of transportation funds that we have been able to return to Colorado to expand I-25 North and I-25 South, if you look at the BLM headquarters move to Grand Junction, if you look at the passage of the most significant public lands bill in over a decade and Congress that I led and championed and made sure it happened, those are the things that we're going to talk about and that's why I think Coloradans are going to in November of 2020 look and say, "You know what? We like solutions. We like the ideas. We like the fact that you're the fifth most bipartisan member of the senate," and I'm confident that we can spread that message across the state and win the election in November.
Birkeland: Any candidate on the Dem side that you would mostly want it to go up against or are the most concerned about?
Gardner: Oh, I welcome them all. I consider them all friends. I've worked with many them in the past and have helped collaborate on a number of ideas with them. I look forward to November of 2020.
Birkeland: What was the last conversation you had with the president and what concerns were you bringing to him?
Gardner: I think the last conversation was probably last week, and I talked to him again about the need to find a solution on the trade deal. We've had a long ongoing conversation about it and that's important. The previous time to that of course was just thanking him for moving BLM once again to Colorado and Space Force, Space Command, excuse me. One of the things that hasn't gotten a lot of attention in Colorado is while we have been positioning Colorado for Space Command, we actually have the space commander working out at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. That's a great feather in the hat for Colorado.
Birkeland: More likely that we'll get the permanent location?
Gardner: He's working here now. It's pretty exciting.
Birkeland: Do you think Trump will campaign for you?
Gardner: I hope that the entire Colorado congressional delegation has a chance to have President Trump in Colorado where we can show him all of the good things that we have done in this state. Let's talk about the jobs that we have created. Let's talk about BLM headquarters in Grand Junction. Let's show him our conservation efforts. Let's show him our renewable energy and our traditional energy opportunities. And I think that's something that Democrats and Republicans would like to do. I hope he comes here.
Birkeland: Well, thanks, Senator. We appreciate the time.
Gardner: Thank you. Thank you.
Ryan Warner: Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, speaking with CPR Public Affairs reporter, Bente Birkeland.
CPR's Bente Birkeland contributed to this report.
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