WASHINGTON — President Trump last night said he has “turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals” — but Iowa’s congressional delegation is hoping Trump doesn’t end the North American Free Trade Agreement. Just before Trump delivered the “State of the Union” speech, Iowa Republicans Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst were among 35 U.S. senators who issued a joint statement to “reaffirm the benefits” of NAFTA.
“I’m pleased that he didn’t say: ‘We’re going to start from scratch.’ It seemed that he was open to the idea of working with other countries to get the best deal that we can, which we would support,” Ernst told Radio Iowa after the speech. “We just don’t want to harm the trade agreements that we do have, especially NAFTA.”
Trump declared tonight that “the era of economic surrender is totally over” and that he expects trade to be “fair and reciprocal.” Ernst said Trump is trying to “walk a very fine line” on trade.
“If we can get a better deal, that’s what the president is trying to do,” Ernst said.
Congressman Rod Blum, a Republican from Dubuque, sent the president a letter last week, outlining the crucial role NAFTA has played in spurring Iowa ag exports.
“Every farmer I’ve spoken to gets very nervous when the president starts talking about NAFTA,” Blum said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “…We do a lot of trade with Canada and Mexico, so we do not want to harm that.”
Congressman David Young, a Republican from Van Meter, was hoping Trump would give a “little bit more of a commitment” to NAFTA in last night’s speech.
“I’m glad that he’s not dumping NAFTA,” Young told Radio Iowa. “I understand making sure NAFTA’s being enforced and modernized, but we need more markets, not less, that’s for sure.”
The president called for at least $1.5 trillion of improvements in the nation’s infrastructure — a plan that would be financed by a combination of federal, state and local tax dollars and private investment along with tolls or fees for those who use the infrastructure. Blum suggested flood control measures in Cedar Rapids and the aging locks and dams along the Mississippi River should be priority projects.
“The locks are 600 feet long. They need to be modernized and made 1200 feet long so there’s not so much time in tearing apart the barges and getting them through and putting them back together,” Blum said. “In Dubuque, where I live, if the lock went down there, that’s the lock there. We don’t have a back-up lock. We’d be in a world of hurt.”
Congressman Dave Loebsack, the only Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation, says Trump “set a good goal” for the country by emphasizing infrastructure.
“The call for significant investment in infrastructure, I think, was well received,” Loebsack says. “My only concern was that there was precious few specifics.”
Congressman Young said he was pleased Trump talked about trying to control the price of prescription drugs.
“Infrastructure, making sure that we have immigration reform — I think those can all be bipartisan solutions and I’ll work with anybody,” Young said after Trump’s speech. “The president’s put out the olive (branch) on a lot of these things and it’s up to congress to deal with a lot of these issues.”