mike rounds

Mike Rounds — Official Senate Portrait

Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) held a press call on Thursday, May 16, to discuss the ongoing trade war with China, as well as his recent introduction of a change to “constitutional carry” handgun law and the growing U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf.

Talk regarding tariffs both on and from China dominated most of the call. Compared to Rounds’ press call last week, before the Trump administration’s May 10, 15 percent tariff spike on Chinese goods (and the resulting, retaliatory 15 percent tariff spike on American goods by President Xi’s administration), his tone seemed increasingly critical of the administration’s actions.

“Raising tariffs on China will hurt both countries,” he said at one point, while also referencing recent economic studies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture which point out that farm income is half of what it was in 2013.

“Talking with producers in South Dakota… their income is down 50 percent in the past 5 years,” he said.

While President Trump himself has insisted in tweets that the increase in tariffs will be “Very bad for China, very good for USA!,” his administration has already talked about plans to deliver a $15 billion dollar subsidy to those farmers whose bottom lines — and crop silos — have stagnated as a result of the trade conflict. A $12 billion dollar tariff subsidy was paid out to farmers in late 2018 as well.

“Many of our producers have said ‘we appreciate the help, but really what we need is a fair trade deal,’” Rounds said.

Multiple economists — and increasingly, GOP lawmakers — have voiced critical opinions of the administration’s trade conflict with China since 2018. Late 2018 data from the independent D.C. think tank “Tax Foundation” argued that tariffs are hurting low-income U.S. consumers and especially farmers more than they are the Chinese government.

“Outstanding threats to impose further tariffs mean Americans could see additional tax increases up to $129 billion,” the December 2018 Tax Foundation report said.

Doug Sombke, President of the South Dakota Farmers’ Union, broadly agreed.

“I don’t think it is [a good trade tactic.] Tariffs is (sic) never good for anyone,” Sombke said. He also said that tariffs were only one part of a larger crisis facing producers in the state.

“The tariffs themselves would be one issue, but we were already in a depressed economy,” Sombke said. He also blamed the heavy snowfall and flooding the state has endured this year, and the government’s lack of enforcement on antitrust laws which prevent any one farm interest from developing into a monopoly.

During Thursday’s call, Rounds said that it was time for the U.S. to reconsider the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and urged the legislature to ratify the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, along with making other trade connections in Asia and Europe, so that the U.S. could negotiate with China “from a position of strength.”

Rounds did not excuse the Chinese government from its own role in the conflict, once again accusing Chinese interests of stealing American companies’ intellectual property and trade secrets.

Sombke echoed Rounds’ comments. “We all agree China has been a bad player, not just the U.S. but countries around the world,” he said.

Sombke said that an alternative way that U.S. and South Dakota farmers could build income and influence would be by finding more domestic uses for crops.

“We need to have more soybean processing here, more ethanol refineries here,” he said, citing examples of domestic crop use.

Rounds also spent some time discussing his May 16 introduction of legislation that he said would close “loopholes” in the Gun-Free School Zones Act.

“U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) today introduced the Constitutional Carry States’ Rights Act that would close a loophole in the Gun-Free School Zones Act to give law-abiding citizens in states with Constitutional carry laws the same legal authority to possess a firearm as individuals in states that require a permit to carry a concealed weapon,” his May 16 press release said.

Rounds concluded the call by speaking on the recent deployment of several U.S. warships to the Persian Gulf. Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have grown since late 2018. It was then that Washington pulled out of a 2015 accord with Tehran and reinstated previously-lifted trade sanctions on the country over, among other issues, its alleged cyberwarfare attacks on American interests and support for Houthi rebels in Yemen. In response, Tehran announced May 8, 2019 that it would resume its production of enriched uranium unless the sanctions were once again lifted and the terms of the 2015 accord upheld.

In a comment on the warships’ deployment, Rounds said, “All we’re doing is making contingency plans, but we’re letting them know we’re not going to get caught off-guard.”

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