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Along with most Democrats, Ryan voted to approve the United-States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a Trump trade priority.
Ryan supported Trump’s use of tariffs against China, but opposed them when Trump failed to exempt European producers.
American consumers and companies bore the brunt of the increased costs because of tariffs.
In the Ohio U.S. Senate race, Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan has drawn criticism for glossing over the details of his position on trade under former President Donald Trump.
An ad from Ryan’s campaign shows him speaking to voters about his record representing Ohio in the House of Representatives since 2003.
"Patriotism means supporting the American worker," he says. "Why I voted with Trump on trade. We have to have the guts to take on China, bring back manufacturing, and cut taxes for workers."
The Republican opposition research group America Rising tweeted a rebuttal.
"Tim Ryan attacked President Trump's tariffs on China as ‘nonsensical,’" the group said Sept. 28.
In June, the National Republican Senatorial Campaign drew on Ryan’s response to a 2020 Washington Post candidate questionnaire, in which Ryan challenged Trump’s approach to tariffs. The Republican group homed in on Ryan saying the tariffs were "abominable" and had "cost American farmers, manufacturers and working families billions of dollars."
What that GOP summary left out were the first words in Ryan’s answer to the Washington Post.
"Tariffs on China are an absolute necessity for balancing the American trade deficit," Ryan said. "With that being said, the goods being targeted — and the tariff rates — are abominable and must be revised immediately."
To sort this out, we unpack Ryan’s voting record and his statements on trade and tariffs.
In the Trump years, the primary, if not the sole, opportunity Ryan had to vote for or against Trump’s policy was congressional approval of the United States-Mexico-Canada free trade act, known as USMCA. The 2020 agreement was a rewrite of the 1993 North American Free Trade Act, NAFTA. Trump had railed against NAFTA when he ran for office, and the new agreement was a legislative milestone.
Ryan joined 192 Democrats and 192 Republicans to approve the USMCA 385 to 41. That was the vote Ryan referred to in his ad, and it broke with Ryan’s typical position on trade.
Ryan has a long history of voting against free trade agreements. In June 2015, he opposed granting President Barack Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major Obama priority. In 2011, he voted against trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. His string of anti-free-trade votes goes back to a 2003 vote against a pact with Chile. Ryan was on the losing side every time.
As a presidential candidate, Trump said he would use tariffs to limit the flow of Chinese products, especially steel and aluminum, to the United States. Before the details were clear, Ryan backed the move.
"China has been eating our lunch for decades," Ryan tweeted March 1, 2018. "These actions will protect good-paying jobs in Ohio and across the country."
On March 8, 2018, Trump imposed tariffs on all imported steel and aluminum, except for imports from Canada and Mexico. At that point, Ryan began to push back. In a letter to Trump, he voiced support for the tariffs on China, but argued that the order should have exempted European producers.
"Implemented in a practical and measured approach, these tariffs will help protect our steel and aluminum industries from further decline," Ryan wrote March 22, 2018. "But without these additional exemptions for our important allies, our steel industry will experience chaos and job loss."
China retaliated by imposing its own tariffs on American soybeans and other farm goods.
Trump devised a payment system to help farmers, but Ryan criticized the overall approach.
"I’m tired of our farmers getting the short end of the Trump stick. We don’t need more tariffs — we need an agricultural agenda that helps our farmers compete in the 21st century," Ryan tweeted May 15, 2019.
There’s a growing body of evidence that the tariff strategy backfired.
A December 2020 summary from the Congressional Research Service, Congress’ nonpartisan policy arm, said most studies "suggest a negative overall effect on U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) as a result of the tariffs."
A group of economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Columbia University said manufacturing companies bore the brunt of the tariffs, and overall wages were slightly lower than they would have been.
Economists at Yale and Pennsylvania State University found the tariffs caused a 0.1% decline in household spending, with some states doing better than others, but most states ending up worse off. They said, "The trade war was ineffective in reversing the decline in manufacturing employment."
Most studies, the Congressional Research Service said, found that U.S. consumers and companies "bore nearly the entire increased costs associated with the tariffs."
Ryan said that he voted with Trump on trade. His vote supporting the USMCA speaks to that. Trump often spoke against free trade agreements. And before Trump took office, Ryan consistently voted against free trade bills.
Outside of his voting record, Ryan backed Trump’s use of tariffs against China and Russia, but opposed them when Trump applied the tariffs to U.S. allies in Europe. He warned that without more-targeted tariffs, Americans would be worse off. Research later determined that American earnings and employment suffered under Trump’s trade war.
The statement in Ryan’s ad is accurate, but it leaves out worthwhile context. We rate this claim Mostly True.
Tim Ryan, campaign ad, Sept. 27, 2022
National Republican Senatorial Campaign, Tim Ryan’s Flip-Flops, Part I: China Tariffs, June 13, 2022
America Rising, tweet, Sept. 28, 2022
CNN, tweet - Democratic presidential debate, June 30, 2019
Tim Ryan, Tweet, July 7, 2018
U.S. Congress, United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act, Jan. 29, 2020
Public Citizen, Congressional Voting Records on Trade, accessed Oct. 3, 2022
U.S. Congress, United States-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement Implementation Act, Oct. 21, 2011
Tim Ryan, Congressman Tim Ryan Statement on House Passage of Fast Track, June 18, 2015
U.S. Congress, United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act, Oct. 21, 2011
U.S. Congress, United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement Implementation Act, Oct. 21, 2011
U.S. Congress, United States-Chile Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act, Sept. 3, 2003
Tim Ryan, Congressman Tim Ryan Condemns President Trump’s Canadian and European Tariffs, May 31, 2018
Congressional Research Service, "Trump Administration Tariff Actions: Frequently Asked Questions," Feb. 22, 2019
National Bureau of Economic Research, Trade protection, stock-market returns, and welfare, August 2022
National Bureau of Economic Research, The economic impacts of the US-China trade war, December 2021
National Bureau of Economic Research, Lessons from US-China trade relations, August 2022
Centre for Economic Policy Research, The impact of the 2018 trade war on U.S. prices and welfare, March 2, 2019
Michael Waugh, Trade War Tracker, accessed Oct. 3, 2022
Federal Reserve Board, Disentangling the Effects of the 2018-2019 Tariffs on a Globally Connected U.S. Manufacturing Sector, 2019
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, How Trump’s Tariffs Really Affected the U.S. Job Market, Jan. 28, 2021
NPR, Trump Formally Orders Tariffs On Steel, Aluminum Imports, March 8, 2018
PolitiFact, "Who pays for US tariffs on Chinese goods? You do," May 14, 2019
Email exchange, David Weinstein, professor of economics, Columbia University, Oct. 3, 2022
Email exchange, Izzi Levy, communications director, Ryan for Senate, Oct. 4, 2022
Email exchange, Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch, senior vice president for communications, Alliance of American Manufacturing, Oct. 4, 2022
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