Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Roger Marshall both expressed frustration with President Trump over pulling the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact designed to ease trade restrictions and create a more common market among 12 Pacific Rim nations.
Roberts and Marshall spoke Wednesday to the Rotary Club of East Wichita. About 40 protesters hovered around the entrance to the Wichita Country Club before their appearance.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is widely hated in upper-Midwestern industrial states, which gave Trump his margin of victory in the race for the presidency. Voters there think, as Trump does, that international trade has forced American manufacturing workers into an unfair competition with low-wage countries.
But the trade deal, which was never fully ratified, was popular with Kansas agriculture because it would have dropped barriers and allowed more exports of Kansas beef and other farm products to the Pacific Rim.
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Now that TPP is dead, the U.S. needs to try to negotiate separate agreements country-by-country, Roberts said.
“I thought the TPP in Asia would plant the American flag, tell China we’re there … we’re not sorry, we’re doing business,” Roberts said.
He said that when he went on a trade tour about 18 months ago, the question he heard from TPP countries was, “Do you still have our back?”
“That they had to ask … was very troubling,” Roberts said. “We have quite a lot of people in the White House who think they know an awful lot about trade. We’ll see.”
Roberts also pointedly spoke out against the House Republicans’ idea of a “border adjustment tax,” essentially an added tax levied on imported goods.
Roberts said he understands that the extra tax on imports would generate a lot of money to help Republicans reach their goal of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. The extra tax is estimated to generate about $1 trillion over the first 10 years.
But, Roberts cautioned: “It seems to me that we better be doggone careful what lurks under the banner of reform.
“These things, if you talk about them in the way they’ve been talked about, people start to move (to other trading partners).
“And we lose market share. And we lose jobs. And we lose the ability to move our product. … Already Mexico is arranging to sell a lot of products to Brazil and Argentina. That causes angst up and down agriculture.”
Roberts was late to the speech because he stopped to talk with about 40 sign-waving protesters outside.
One of the protest organizers, registered nurse Melissa Haverkamp, said they were upset that “Roberts has refused to hold a Town Hall, but he is very willing to talk to his supporters with the Rotary Club.”
The protesters were upset that Roberts has voted to confirm controversial Trump Cabinet nominees, such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a proponent of private education, vouchers and charter schools, and Scott Pruitt, a longtime opponent of environmental regulation who will head the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I feel like he (Roberts) is voting along party lines and not taking into account things like human decency,” Haverkamp said.
Roberts said he was discussing health policy with one of the protesters when others came over and interrupted. He said he took the woman’s phone number and would personally call her back to discuss her concerns.