Editorials

As Trump threatens Americans, guess whose senators are silent?

Tillis votes to support Trump on national emergency declaration, flipping stance

Sen. Thom Tillis explains his reasons for changing his stance on the national emergency declaration during a speech on the Senate floor Thursday, March 14, 2019.
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Sen. Thom Tillis explains his reasons for changing his stance on the national emergency declaration during a speech on the Senate floor Thursday, March 14, 2019.

It’s a good thing that when the president announces a bizarre policy that’s bad for Americans, they have senators are willing to stand up for them. It would be better thing if one of those senators were from North Carolina.

That’s apparently wishful thinking, as we learned again Thursday when Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he would impose a 5 percent tariff on all imported goods from Mexico beginning June 10 “until the illegal immigration problem is remedied.” The tariffs could be raised to 10 percent on July 1 and an additional 5 percent each month for three months, he said later.

The threat doesn’t define “remedied” nor what actions from Mexico might satisfy Trump. What the threat does do is put a potential new burden on consumers and businesses. Mexico is Washington’s largest trading partner, and a 5 percent tax on goods from tomatoes to cars would amount to billions of dollars passed on to Americans, including the N.C.. consumers and businesses that Sens. Thom Tillis and fellow Republican Richard Burr represent.

While Burr is apparently content to meekly serve out his final term, Tillis is in a difficult position these days. He’s a Republican U.S. senator in a moderate state, which means he’s facing the anger of Democrats and wariness of independents who don’t support President Donald Trump. He’s also facing a GOP primary challenger who says Tillis isn’t sufficiently in the president’s corner.

The result is that Tillis, who has comically wavered between standing up and cowing to the president, now appears to be fully at Trump’s side. “The president is a patriot,” the senator said last week on Fox News, apparently deciding to woo Republicans now and moderates later. It’s not an easy political choice, but North Carolinians shouldn’t feel particularly sorry for him.

You know who else is in a difficult position these days? N.C. farmers who feel the very real pain of the trade war Trump escalated with China. In response to Trump’s reckless tariffs on Chinese goods — the costs of which fall on U.S. consumers — China has imposed stiff tariffs on soybeans and other products that are key to North Carolina’s farm economy.

You know who’s also hurting? Even more N.C. farmers who are feeling a labor crunch thanks to the president’s harsh rhetoric and uneven immigration policies. Those farmers face a shortage of hired hands who can pick crops such as tobacco, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and strawberries. What farmers and workers really need are policies that allow for a flow of immigrants who can come here for harvest and go home when they’re done.

You know who may soon feel more pain? Everyone else, if Trump follows through with his Mexico threat. That’s why other members of Congress, including Republicans, were quick to speak up late Thursday and Friday. They need to do more than that. They should remind the president that the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the ultimate authority to regulate commerce and set tariffs, and they should more actively engage in trade decisions. They also should strongly make the case that tariffs are the wrong vehicle to implement immigration policy, and now more than ever, they should craft comprehensive immigration reform that can preempt the president’s impulsiveness.

All of which likely won’t come from North Carolina’s senators, including Thom Tillis, who once at least pretended to stand up to the worst of Donald Trump. Now, apparently, he has abandoned the state he represents for the president he thinks he needs.



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