The Koch brothers' conservative political network is launching an aggressive "multi-year, multimillion-dollar" campaign against the tariffs and trade restrictions being pursued by the Trump administration.
Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce and the LIBRE Initiative announced the campaign Monday to "champion the far-reaching benefits of trade and oppose tariffs and other barriers" through "paid media, activist education and grassroots mobilization, lobbying and policy analysis."
In a document that lists the network's "trade principles," the groups urge President Donald Trump to "permanently lift the recent steel and aluminum tariffs," "permanently lift the proposed additional tariffs on imports from China" and "permanently lift the recent solar panel and washing machine tariffs."
The groups also recommend "modernizing NAFTA" and resuming negotiations on a pair of trade deals abandoned by the administration: the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
Last week, Trump's administration announced steep tariffs on steel and aluminum from close allies Canada, Mexico and the European Union. All three have promised retaliatory actions of their own. And on Friday, Trump said he "wouldn't mind" scrapping the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The campaign pits the Koch brothers and their network -- longtime advocates of free-market economics, and GOP kingmakers for much of the past decade -- against the Republican White House on an issue that has roiled the party and inflamed tensions between the traditional, establishment wing of the GOP and the more populist wing, which has ascended in the Trump era.
Reflecting that divide, retiring Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said he was working with "like-minded Republican senators on ways to push back on the president using authorities in ways never intended and that are damaging to our country and our allies," and pleaded with Democrats to join the effort.
Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, spoke to the emerging divide in a statement announcing the Koch network campaign.
"The Trump administration has taken some incredibly positive steps for the American economy, but tariffs will undercut that progress and needlessly hamstring our full economic potential. There are better ways to negotiate trade deals than by punishing American consumers and businesses with higher cost," Phillips said.
James Davis, Freedom Partners executive vice president, echoed that sentiment: "This campaign makes a clear statement: Trade is a major priority for our network. We will work aggressively to educate policymakers and others about the facts. Trade lifts people out of poverty and improves lives. It is critical to America's future prosperity and our consumers, workers and companies. Tariffs and other trade barriers make us poorer. They raise prices for those who can least afford it. That's why this issue is so important."
LIBRE Initiative President Daniel Garza also weighed in: "Elected officials and policy leaders need to recognize that free and open trade policies make American workers and families more prosperous."
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