House Speaker Nancy Pelosi believes President Donald Trump had to challenge China's trade practices — she's just not sold that he took the right steps to hold Beijing accountable.
"I think the president had to do something about it, I'm just not sure he went the right way," the California Democrat told CNBC's Jim Cramer in an interview Tuesday. "I think we should have done it multilaterally, with the EU and the rest."
As Trump pushes China to change what he and some lawmakers from both parties call abusive trade practices, he has slapped tariffs on more than $500 billion in Chinese goods. The moves prompted various retaliatory duties from Beijing, locking the world's two largest economies in a trade war that threatens to drag on global economic growth.
The agriculture industry and businesses from other sectors have warned about damage from the widening trade war. On Tuesday, Pelosi said Trump should not have tried to address China's practices in a way that could open Americans up to financial pain.
"And what I would say is, whatever path he wanted to take to improve a trade relationship, do not empower the other side to hurt your farmers and your consumers," she told the "Mad Money" host.
The Trump administration looks to strike a trade deal with China to address concerns including intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and agricultural purchases. Washington and Beijing are set to hold talks this week ahead of higher-level discussions in October.
On Tuesday, Trump said he thinks "there'll be a deal maybe soon, maybe before the [November 2020] election or one day after the election." Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, he warned that if a deal came together after the election, "it'll be the toughest deal anybody's ever had to make from the standpoint of China, and they know that."
The president has repeatedly claimed the conflict with Beijing will not harm the economy or raise costs for consumers. Still, he admitted last month that he delayed planned tariffs on some Chinese goods "for the Christmas season" in case "they might have an impact on people."
Last month, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office also said it expects trade policy changes since Jan. 2018 to reduce U.S. gross domestic product by about 0.3% by 2020.
Trump hopes to notch more than one victory on trade — one of his top economic priorities — before next year's election. He has pushed Congress to approve his replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement, dubbed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Pelosi said Tuesday that House Democrats still have concerns about enforcement of labor and environmental standards. But Democrats "hope that we're on a path" to being comfortable approving the deal, she added.
Cramer's full interview with Pelosi will air at 6 p.m. ET on "Mad Money."