Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday needled President Donald Trump to get tougher on trade with Beijing ahead of the former businessman’s Mar-a-Lago meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Schumer lobbed his latest challenge at Trump alongside Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), both of whom face tough reelection fights next year in states Trump won by appealing to blue-collar workers with criticism of free-trade agreements. Vowing to cheer Trump on “if he did something good on trade,” Schumer prodded the president for failing to make good on a campaign commitment to label China a currency manipulator.
“One of the few hopes we had with President Trump is that he’d finally stand up to China,” Schumer told reporters. “But up to now, when it comes to China, he looks like a 98-pound weakling.”
Schumer also vowed that Senate Democrats would soon roll out a trade package of their own, adding that “a lot of it’s going to be China-related.” But he offered no timeframe for its release, which would likely come after a separate infrastructure plan that Democrats first outlined in January.
Taking on Trump over trade gives Senate Democrats a powerful tool to use in midterm races like Stabenow’s, Casey’s, and the Ohio reelection battle of Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who has called on the president to pursue Chinese currency manipulation by executive order. But Democrats face internal differences of their own over trade, laid bare by last year’s divisive debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that could flare up as any bill takes shape.
For now, as Trump prepares to host Xi at his Palm Beach resort on Thursday and Friday, Schumer chided the president for not taking any concrete steps on the China trade front and implored him to “be thinking of middle class workers.”
“He talks a good game,” Schumer said. “He signs a couple of executive orders that mean nothing. He hasn’t saved one job — one job — that China is stealing.”
Trump used some of his toughest rhetoric during last year’s campaign to go after China, which he accused of using unfair trade practices that cost American workers millions of jobs. He pledged to have the Treasury Department go after China for currency manipulation on his first day in office, an idea that Attorney General Jeff Sessions backed during his years in the Senate GOP conference.
Schumer is easily the new president’s match when it comes to complaining about China’s trade practices. The New Yorker goaded former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to take a tougher approach when they were in office and also teamed up with Sen. Lindsey Graham in the mid-2000s on a bill that would have imposed a 27.5 percent tariff on Chinese goods. That cleared the Senate, but ultimately failed to become law.