3. 2020 Dems punt on Trump's China tariffs
None of the leading Democratic presidential contenders would immediately drop President Trump's tariffs on China if elected president, despite calling his moves against Beijing reckless, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.
- Alayna asked each campaign whether they would get rid of the tariffs on day 1, and none gave a clear answer. The campaigns said they would either leave the existing tariffs in place or conduct a review of the tariff policy upon entering office.
Why it matters: Trade with China is one of the few foreign policy issues that must-win Rust Belt voters care about deeply. This is largely because people in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have seen factories close as manufacturing moves overseas — and, subsequently, they have seen their towns gutted.
Between the lines: Despite the steep political polarization in Washington, China's emergence as an competitor has largely unified U.S. politicians.
- "Any Democrat that doesn't express a desire to be tough on China digs themselves into a hole before the race even gets going," said Scott Mulhauser, former chief of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and former deputy chief of staff to Biden.
Historically, Democrats have dominated Republicans on the China trade issue. Working with their labor allies, they've fought free trade deals with China and backed protectionist policies to shield American manufacturing.
- But in 2016, Trump seized that issue and now all but owns it. He's made the GOP the party of China hawks.
- “Trump has turned this into a Trump issue; he's put his own mark on it,” said Ned Price, who served as National Security Council spokesperson to former President Obama. "But in doing so he has opened the door to Democrats making a campaign issue out of this."
Driving the news: Alayna also asked the top 2020 Democratic candidates if they plan to take the China trade issue back from Trump, and if so, how.
- Sen. Bernie Sanders offered the most concrete response, saying he would go after China on climate change, as they are the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. He also said he'd establish "a coalition of allies and partners" to respond to Beijing’s "troubling behavior" in key areas, including disputes over trade and intellectual property.
Go deeper: Read all of their responses here.