Politics

McConnell to Trump: China trade war has been 'very tough on American agriculture'

Key Points
  • The U.S.-China trade war has been "very tough" on American farmers, says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
  • "I hope we can get a conclusion to this sometime soon because rural America really needs it," says the Kentucky Republican.
  • McConnell also says rural America would benefit if Congress passed the White House's replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
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Sen. Mitch McConnell: Rural America needs China trade deal, USMCA

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNBC on Monday that the China trade war has been "very tough" on farmers in the United States.

"I'd sure like for it to reach some resolution soon," the Kentucky Republican said in a "Squawk Alley" interview. "It's been very tough on American agriculture. ... I hope the president can get a good outcome here."

China has not been "playing by the rules" for a long time, McConnell said, "so I admire what [Trump] is trying to do." Even so, the GOP Senate leader said, "I hope we can get a conclusion to this sometime soon because rural America really needs it."

American farmers have been hurt by retaliatory tariffs from China. Roughly $19.5 billion in U.S. farm goods were exported to China in 2017, but that figure fell to $9.1 billion in 2018 as tariffs made agriculture products more expensive, Reuters reported. The Trump administration has responded by offering $28 billion in aid to farmers to offset the impact.

In addition to a trade war resolution, McConnell said rural America would also benefit if Congress passed the White House's replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"This is a big deal for American agriculture, to get this new and improved deal with the Canadians and the Mexicans, as well," McConnell said, referring to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA for short.

McConnell urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to consider the USMCA, which was agreed upon by negotiators from the three countries last year. Mexico is the only country to have given it legislative approval.

"I think it's going to be pretty hard for her not to take it up, even though voting for a Trump trade deal I gather is a bitter pill for [Democrats]," McConnell said.

Pelosi told CNBC earlier this month that Democrats "hope that we're on a path to yes," arguing they want stronger rules to enforce environmental and labor standards before throwing full support behind the USMCA.

The House's decision to officially open an impeachment inquiry into Trump has further cast doubts on whether Democrats would be willing to give the president a signature legislative win ahead of his 2020 reelection campaign.

McConnell criticized Pelosi and fellow Democrats over their push to impeach Trump. "We think we ought to be able to do more than just create controversy here," he said.

Instead, McConnell said the House and Senate should tackle issues both parties agree on.

"The USMCA is an example of something we agree on," McConnell said. "I don't expect her to take up measures that we think are important all by ourselves, meaning the Republicans. Nor will I be taking up this whole litany of left-wing proposals they've been passing in the House."

The White House reiterated McConnell's stance. 

"As Sen. McConnell said, we can deliver a win for farmers on USMCA if Congress would hurry up and pass it," Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere told CNBC in an email. "Chinese retaliation on our farmers is not something President Trump has tolerated, and unlike his predecessors he will continue to use every available tool to stand up to China and level the playing field for American agriculture."

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Key Points
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Senate would have no choice but to take up impeachment if the House votes to effectively charge President Donald Trump. 
  • The Republican-held Senate is unlikely to vote to convict Trump and remove him from office.