Sen. Angus King invokes Smoot-Hawley in warning against Trump tariffs

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King appeared on “Meet the Press” to oppose Trump’s proposed metal tariffs, saying the protectionist policy could cause a trade war with Maine’s northern neighbor, Canada.

Invoking the name of a disastrous historic tariff, U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine appeared on a political talk show Sunday with a warning against President Donald Trump’s impending trade war through taxes on metals imported from foreign nations.

King told NBC’s “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd that raising taxes on imports with the intention of correcting imbalances in international markets could have harsh results for American companies, including those in King’s home state.

“We don’t live in a static universe,” King said. “You can’t make a change of this significance and assume that nothing else is going to happen as a result.”

King said Trump’s March 1 threat to impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, which may be extended to European automobiles, brought to mind a piece of legislation that pushed the world further into financial catastrophe in the first half of the 20th century.

“The only thing I can think of is Smoot-Hawley, the tariff in 1930 that many economists believe contributed significantly to the worldwide depression,” King said. “I’m not suggesting that’s going to happen, but what I’m suggesting is the results are hard to determine.”

Named for its Republican congressional sponsors Sen. Reed Smoot of Utah and Rep. William Hawley of Oregon, the protectionist policy signed by President Herbert Hoover is better known to economics students than to the majority of today’s taxpayers.

Yet the comparison to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which levied tariffs on more than 20,000 imported products – and sparked foreign retaliation resulting in the loss of about half of America’s trade – should alarm modern businesses and consumers alike.

Illustrating the possible complications of a trade war, King referred to a pair of unnamed companies in Maine, one that has already seen an 8 percent increase in the cost of steel it uses to fabricate products, and another “way up north in Fort Fairfield, Maine,” that purchases steel from Canada due to its proximity.

“They’re very worried about the impact,” King said of the latter firm, located in a town with a border crossing to New Brunswick.

“You want to do these things with a scalpel, not a chainsaw,” King said, warning of the possible ramifications of an overreaching policy whose announcement, as Todd pointed out, was a surprise to those on Capitol Hill and even in the White House.

“It needs to be more carefully tailored,” King said, adding that he hopes that over the course of the week, Trump’s proposal will become “a much more narrow and directed effort.”

King also noted his concern about the president’s statements that tariffs would be enacted “on the whole world in the name of national security.”

“I don’t think we need to block Canadian steel in the name of national security. They’re annoying, but you know they’re nice, they’re too nice,” King said with a smile. “But we don’t fear a war with Canada.”