Trump calls for hard lines on immigration and trade

President Donald Trump Feb. 5 called on Washington to cast aside “revenge, resistance and retribution” and end “ridiculous partisan investigations” in a State of the Union address delivered at a vulnerable moment for his presidency.

Trump appealed for bipartisanship but refused to yield on the hardline immigration policies that have infuriated Democrats and forced the recent government shutdown. He renewed his call for a border wall and cast illegal immigration as a threat to Americans’ safety and economic security.

Trump accepted no blame for his role in cultivating the rancorous atmosphere in the nation’s capital, and he didn’t outline a clear path for collaborating with Democrats who are eager to block his agenda. Their opposition was on vivid display as Democratic congresswomen in the audience formed a sea of white in a nod to early 20th-century suffragettes.

Trump also says he’s now in favor of more legal immigration.

Trump raised eyebrows in his speech when he said he wanted people “to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.” His policy positions to date do not reflect that wish.

Asked Feb. 6 during a meeting with regional reporters whether the line represented a change in policy, Trump said it did.

That’s according to a transcript tweeted by a reporter from The Advocate newspaper in which Trump is quoted saying: “I need more people coming in because we need people to run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in.”

But in his speech, Trump had argued that immigrants in the United States illegally take jobs away from middle-class Americans.

It’s difficult to know just how many jobs newly planned facilities would add. Construction spending on factories has yet to take off significantly after having been in decline between 2016 and much of 2018, according to the Census Bureau. 

Trump has proposed several policies that would severely restrict legal immigration, including limiting immigrants’ ability to sponsor family members to join them. He has also slashed for the last two years the number of refugees the U.S. will accept.

The White House did not immediately respond to questions about how it might be translating Trump’s new thinking into its policy stances and proposals.

After calling the North American Free Trade Agreement an historic trade blunder, Trump also called for passage of its successor, saying the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement would expand American agriculture.

NAFTA guaranteed duty-free access to Canada and Mexico for most U.S. farm exports. The USMCA would preserve duty-free access and make modest improvements in cross-border trade, mostly for dairy and wheat.

During his 80-minute speech, Trump said the USMCA would “deliver for American workers: Bringing back our manufacturing jobs, expanding American agriculture, protecting intellectual property and ensuring that more cars are proudly stamped with four beautiful words: Made in the USA.” 

Ag’s thoughts

Farm groups had mixed reaction to the speech.

National Association of Wheat Growers CEO Chandler Goule said in a statement, “As we consider our place in the world stage, let’s make sure that we preserve smart trade deals that keep American wheat producers in a strong position. This includes remaining in NAFTA until the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement is in place and moving forward with new bi-lateral deals.

“We appreciate the president continuing to talk about the need to enforce our trade deals and commend the administration’s work to ensure countries like China are living up to its commitments. We recognize that China’s trade policies are unfair and create unnecessary distortions that hurt U.S. farmers and other industries, which is why NAWG supports the two World Trade Organization cases the U.S. has taken against China instead of tariffs.”

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American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said, “Farmers and ranchers across the country need reforms to our immigration system, and we echo President Trump’s call for Congress to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to preserve and build on the export gains with our North American neighbors. At the same time, we support bipartisan efforts to rebuild and modernize our nation’s infrastructure, including broadband technology in rural areas.”

National Farmers Union Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Communications Rob Larew said, “The president’s remarks tonight failed to recognize the harsh realities facing American farm and ranch families.

“The reality is that the downward trend in the farm economy has only worsened over the last two years, leaving many farmers and ranchers in significant financial stress. The reality is that once-stable markets for U.S. farm products are now being lost to our competitors. And the reality is that the current downward pressure on farm prices as a result of lost markets will continue for years to come. To tout progress with China or USMCA as a win is misleading—you can’t dig a 10-foot hole, fill it up with a foot of dirt and call that a win.

“If the president truly wants to support American farm families, he will begin to restore our reputation around the world as a reliable trading partner. He will reassert American leadership in the international trade arena, rather than straining relationships with our top trading partners. And he will back up his calls for bipartisanship by working with Congress to ensure farm families can succeed with fair and stable markets for their goods.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Jennifer Houston said, “We welcome President Trump’s call for quick passage of the USMCA, and we hope that members of both parties in both chambers heed that call. With 96 percent of our potential customers living outside the United States, there’s no policy issue more important to American cattle producers than access to foreign markets.

“The sooner we can secure our access to Mexico and Canada, the sooner we can focus our time, energy and resources on improving our access to lucrative markets in Asia and Europe.” 

Trade coalition

The comments precede the announcement of a diverse group of trade associations, businesses and advocacy groups launching the “Pass USMCA Coalition,” an alliance advocating for the swift passage of the agreement.

“The USMCA sets a modern precedent for freer and fairer trade not only in North America, but throughout the world,” said former Obama Secretary of Commerce and Washington Gov. Gary Locke, honorary chairman of Pass USMCA. “Ratifying the agreement quickly will improve our trading relationships with Canada and Mexico, create more jobs for American workers, and propel international trade into the 21st century.”

Trade with Canada and Mexico supports 14 million U.S. jobs across many sectors. These workers—and the industries they support—drive billions of dollars in annual U.S. exports. In 2017, the United States exported more than $275 billion in goods to Mexico and nearly $350 billion in goods to Canada.

Julie Pace and Catherine Lucey of The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].