BARTLETT, Ill. — Republican Rep. Peter Roskam on Wednesday said he remains “very concerned” about President Trump’s signature trade policies as he campaigns against a blue tide in a suburban Chicago congressional district that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The affluent 6th Congressional District is dotted with small businesses and manufacturers reliant on international trade. For months, Roskam has been openly critical of Trump’s broad use of tariffs to leverage better terms from U.S. trading partners. Less than two weeks before midterm elections shaping up as a referendum on Trump, the congressman isn’t pulling any punches.
“We in Chicagoland have a lot to lose on a bad trade deal and the administration, I think, has been, not artful, in how they’ve dealt with exemptions,” Roskam told the Washington Examiner over coffee at a Dunkin' Donuts after touring the American headquarters of a multinational automation firm in his district. “I don’t think they’ve been as forward-leaning as they can. So in answer to your question, I’m concerned.”
Roskam, 57, was referring to the administration’s exemption policy, largely for steel and aluminum tariffs. Domestic manufacturers and other companies can apply for federal exemptions from these financially punitive tariffs; a process governed by the Trump administration. The congressman is facing a stiff challenge from Democrat Sean Casten, a businessman in the clean energy field.
Roskam is a tough campaigner, having first been elected to Congress in 2006, a Democratic wave year, by defeating future Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. Roskam won re-election two years later despite a second blue wave driven by the elevation of Barack Obama, a popular Illinois Democrat, to the presidency. Roskam faces a new threat this cycle: dissatisfaction with Trump that is particularly sharp in suburban battlegrounds (especially among women.)
Anxiety about Trump’s trade policies has only added to the political complications dragging down many Republican incumbents, with the issue distracting voters from a strong economy that has seen robust growth and historically low unemployment. Roskam, who is running in a suburban Chicago district that spurned Trump for Clinton by 7 percentage points, is similarly challenged.
The congressman said he was hopeful the details of the re-negotiated North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump is referring to as the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, would live up the president’s billing. Incidentally, Roskam’s wait-and-see approach to the so-called USMCA could signal an uncertain ratification battle in Congress, as members digest what the various changes mean for their districts.
But, assuming fights with Mexico and Canada are in the past, and a deal is worked out with Europe, Roskam wants Trump to focus on bringing China to heel. Of all of the president’s trade policies, Roskam appeared most sympathetic to his aggressive moves against Beijing, which have caused hardships for domestic agriculture and manufacturers.
“Best-case scenario is, the North American deal is as good as the administration says it is,” Roskam said, adding: “The fact that the Europeans came to the White House two months ago saying we want to deal is a good foreshadowing. It’s not a deal. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that that happens, then all the attention needs to turn to China, because China is the cheater.”