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WASHINGTON - Sean Duffy, Ron Kind and Mike Gallagher all represent Wisconsin congressional districts carried by Donald Trump in 2016.

But on one of Trump’s signature issues — tariffs — the three have unveiled dramatically different legislation in recent days.

Duffy, a Republican who represents most of northern Wisconsin, has offered a bill backed by the Trump White House that would significantly expand the president’s power to impose tariffs.

“The president has been fighting this fight on unfair trade,” Duffy said, but “with one hand tied behind our back.”

Gallagher, a Republican, and Kind, a Democrat, are co-authors of a bill that goes in the opposite direction. It would restrict the president’s tariff power and require a congressional vote on the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump imposed last year on Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

“I think Sean and I want the same thing … a level and fair playing field for Wisconsin manufacturers and farmers. It’s also fair to say we just have a disagreement on the best way to get there,” Gallagher, who represents northeastern Wisconsin, said of his fellow Republican.   

“In what world does this make sense — that we’re going to give the president more unfettered discretion to unilaterally impose tariffs on anyone he wants to?” said Kind, who represents most of western Wisconsin. “I don’t know where Sean is coming from.”

These three House members represent neighboring districts. Trump carried their districts in 2016 by anywhere from four to 20 points. Together, they represent the vast majority of Wisconsin’s rural counties, where farmers, in particular, have felt the impact of the Trump tariffs.

But the gap between the bills they’re pushing highlights how the issue of trade is cutting across political and geographic lines and how it has created a sharp debate even within Trump’s own party.  

Duffy’s bill would give Trump power to unilaterally raise tariffs on individual foreign products if he found that the country of origin had imposed trade barriers on the same U.S. product.

“The bill will allow the president to go country by country, product by product. The intent is not to say we want to have a tariff-riddled world. We want to get rid of tariffs, but we have no leverage to help get rid of tariffs,” said Duffy.

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He said his bill would give the president a “scalpel” in trade disputes rather than the very blunt weapons available now.

“Especially with China, they lie, they cheat and they steal, and if we don’t address the trade inequalities, (then) 15 years from now, when their economy is that much larger and that much stronger, we will have wished we had gone through some tougher measures today,” Duffy said.

Trump hailed the Duffy bill recently, calling it “an incredible tool to bring foreign countries to the negotiating table and to get them to lower their tariffs on our products.”

The bill has 18 Republican co-sponsors, including Wisconsin’s Jim Sensenbrenner.  

But Duffy’s measure is opposed by a host of business coalitions and pro-trade and pro-free market groups that says it would encourage trade wars and give presidents too much power.

In a letter to Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it would “effectively give the President unilateral authority to increase U.S. tariffs on imports from any foreign country,” invite massive retaliatory tariffs, undermine U.S. competitiveness and “chill job creation.”  

Reid Ribble, Gallagher’s GOP predecessor as congressman from Wisconsin’s 8th District, ripped the Duffy bill on Twitter last Thursday, saying: “Two WI Republican members of Congress introduced trade legislation in the last few weeks. One abandons the constitution to give POTUS authority not his, and the other by @RepGallagher keeps his oath to defend the constitution and protect congressional rights.”

The bipartisan bill co-authored by Gallagher, Kind and two House colleagues deals with one specific kind of tariff — those imposed under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, when a president claims there is a national security rationale to protect vital industries. Trump invoked that provision when he imposed the 2018 steel and aluminum tariffs.  

The bill would require presidents to get congressional approval for such tariffs, which they don’t need now. And it would apply retroactively to the Trump tariffs against Mexico, Canada and the E.U. — forcing an up-or-down vote on Capitol Hill.  The bill is very similar to one Gallagher and Kind sponsored last year. A companion bill in the Senate is co-sponsored by Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson. 

Gallagher said he’s following traditional conservative principles in seeking to curb the president’s tariff power.

“It used to be the conservative position that tariffs were taxes that distort the free market,” said Gallagher, who argued that Congress has surrendered too much authority to the executive branch on this issue.  

Gallagher said he supports Trump’s tariffs against China, but not the ones against the European Union. He said the U.S. is going to need Europe as it tries to forge a common front against what he called China’s unfair practices.  

Kind is a pro-trade Democrat from La Crosse who said Trump’s trade policies, by sparking retaliatory tariffs, have taken a toll on the region he represents.

“I’m an expert on the pain and suffering our farmers and manufacturers are feeling in my congressional district because of these steel and aluminum tariffs,” said Kind. Gallagher said he hears widespread concerns in his district as well about those tariffs.   

Duffy has a different take on how the Trump tariffs, and his bill to give the president more authority, are being received.

“A lot of the people I talk to (about the tariffs) say, ‘This has been a little more challenging for us,’ but they will also say, ‘I get what the president is trying to do,’ ” said Duffy. “My phone is not ringing, going, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I am not getting that at all.”  

Michael Slattery, a farmer in Manitowoc County and former financial executive who ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2016 and is active in the Wisconsin Farmers Union, said retaliatory tariffs triggered by Trump trade policies have compounded the economic problems plaguing grain and dairy farmers in recent years. He is critical of tariffs.

But he also said, “In Wisconsin, the (Trump) tariffs are a temporarily tolerated form of trade relations” among many farmers who voted for Trump and like the idea of a more aggressive U.S. trade stance toward other countries.

Polling in recent years by the Marquette University Law School shows the Trump tariffs are not popular statewide.

Combining five Wisconsin polls last year, 31% of registered voters said raising steel and aluminum tariffs will help the U.S. economy and 51% said it would hurt.

But the percentage who viewed the tariffs favorably was much higher among Republicans (55%) and higher still among voters who approve of Trump (59%).

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