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Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman to Trump: Mexico tariffs are a bad idea

By Marty Schladen • Jun 5, 2019 at 9:59 AM

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman on Tuesday was among Republicans on Capitol Hill saying that President Donald Trump's threat to impose tariffs against Mexico is a bad idea. The state's junior senator stopped short of saying what he might do to try to stop Trump, however.

Frustrated with the flow of Central Americans through Mexico on their way to seek asylum in the United States, Trump said he would impose a 5% tariff on all Mexican imports if the country doesn't stanch the flow. Trump said he would then ratchet up tariffs to 25% over time.

In England on Tuesday, Trump said Republican members of Congress would be foolish if they tried to stop him.

But in a conference call with Ohio reporters, Portman said Mexican tariffs would be particularly damaging to the Buckeye State economy. They would increase the cost of the $9.2 billion in imports to the state each year, and Portman said Mexico would likely retaliate with tariffs of its own on the $6.9 billion worth of goods Ohio sends to Mexico annually, according to state and federal figures.

"Mexico is a huge market for Ohio farmers and manufacturers," he said, explaining that makers of auto parts send many of their products across the southern border.

Portman said he shares Trump's frustration that more than 100,000 migrants have been detained at the border in each of the last two months, overwhelming immigration authorities. But he said he wanted to overhaul U.S. asylum laws to deal with the crisis.

Currently, Central Americans fleeing gang violence and other chaos in Central America can legally cross at designated U.S. ports of entry and seek asylum. Trump earlier this year announce plans to cut aide to groups in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala that are trying to stabilize those countries.

Portman said that imposing tariffs on Mexico would also hurt the U.S. economy by undermining a revamped trade treaty with Mexico and Canada — a pact he described as "incredibly important."

At a noon meeting, Portman and his GOP colleagues discussed the possibility of passing a disapproval resolution blocking the tariffs, which Trump said he plans to start on Monday. But Portman said that depends on what legal authority Trump plans to claim in enacting the tariffs.

Asked if he agreed with the Koch Brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity that the tariffs would function as a tax because consumers would ultimately pay them, Portman said they likely would.

"These tariffs would likely have an impact on our consumers," he said.

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©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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