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U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton: Tariffs may be painful, but it's 'pretty minimal' compared to sacrifices made by troops

by Frank E. Lockwood | May 14, 2019 at 4:30 a.m.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is shown in this file photo.

WASHINGTON -- With the U.S. and China locked in a yearlong trade war, the latest round of tariffs will harm some Americans, but the sacrifice is "pretty minimal" compared to those made by American servicemen around the world, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton told a national news show Monday.

His comments came as soybean prices were dropping to the lowest levels in a decade, on a day when the Dow Jones industrial average fell 617.38 points.

The Republican from Dardanelle was appearing on CBS This Morning in New York City to discuss his new book, Sacred Duty: A Soldier's Tour at Arlington National Cemetery.

Cotton, a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, enlisted in the Army in 2005, serving combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. In between, he served with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at Arlington, acting as a platoon leader in the Old Guard, the Army's illustrious ceremonial unit.

But program co-host Norah O'Donnell quickly shifted the focus to the latest round of tariffs launched by Washington and Beijing.

A recent University of Arkansas study, she noted, had warned of the negative effects that retaliatory tariffs could have on the state Cotton represents.

"Is President [Donald] Trump hurting the Americans that he promised to help?" she asked.

Cotton, who grew up on a cattle farm in Yell County, conceded that the tariffs could be painful but portrayed them as necessary.

"There will be some sacrifice on the part of Americans; I grant you that. But I also would say that that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas, that our fallen heroes who are laid to rest at Arlington make," he said.

Arkansas farmers know that tougher trade policies are necessary, he said.

"When I'm home in Arkansas, I hear from farmers who are worried about opening up new markets and getting their products to market. But they also understand that China is a serious competitor in the United States and wants to displace us around the world. And they look at the sacrifices that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines make around the world. They're willing to bear some of those sacrifices in the short term that, hopefully in the long term, ensure our long-term prosperity and security," the senator said.

While some Americans have been hurt by the tariffs, others have benefited, Cotton said, pointing to the steel industry. Eastern Arkansas has "one of the largest steel production areas now in the country. They obviously are doing very well," he added.

After Cotton spoke, Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach warned that Arkansas agriculture is in the midst of a "slow disaster."

Tariffs are high. Commodity prices are low. The ground is soggy and planting has been delayed.

The problems continue to mount, Veach noted when contacted by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

"Soybeans were down another 17 cents earlier today; I don't know where they are right now. And we're $2 below the break-even price," he said. "These prices have done nothing but continue to decline. And the tariffs are what's causing it."

Last year, the Trump administration announced a $12 billion package to help farmers who have suffered as a result of the trade war. Monday, Trump said an additional $15 billion is on the way.

Veach said he hopes the aid comes quickly. "We need it right now, because we're going to lose some farmers, some multigenerational farms without some help," he said.

A desire to rein in Beijing is understandable, Veach said.

"China's been a bad player for a long time and we know and understand that. We want to do something about China. But this is really hurting agriculture. This is really hurting agriculture," he said.

Ultimately, it's important to resolve the trade issues and move forward, Veach said.

"We need to move forward. We need to get some of these trade agreements settled. Because our markets are really, really suffering from it," he said.

Alvaro Durand-Morat, one of the UA report's authors, said the tariffs have been "bad for Arkansas agriculture and for the state as a whole."

The assistant professor in the UA Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness was unaware that CBS was planning to highlight his report, he said, but welcomed the exposure.

"It's good to know that what we do here in Fayetteville gets national attention," he added.

In an interview, Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray criticized Cotton for minimizing the suffering that Arkansas farmers have endured as a result of the trade war.

"He should stand up and say, 'Arkansas' number one industry is agriculture, this trade war with China hurts us and I'm going to be against it.' Instead he continues to speak from the president's platform and ignore the needs of our people," said Gray, who farms in Woodruff County.

Cotton, who has portrayed China as an economic and military threat, hadn't intended to focus Monday morning on tariffs and trade.

The day's focus was supposed to be the book, which was to go on sale today. Cotton's schedule originally included the CBS interview, a segment on Fox and Friends on Fox News and an appearance on The View, a daytime talk show.

But he ended up canceling the last appointment.

"We just reached a mutual agreement not to do the show," Cotton's communications adviser, Brett O'Donnell, said.

Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, the company planned to print 150,000 copies initially. While the exact dollar figure has not been released, the senator received an advance of $250,000 last year. His total advance is more than $500,000, according to "Politico," the Washington-based political news outlet. The book has drawn praise from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, among others.

A Section on 05/14/2019

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