Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Biden’s China tariff decision isn't going over well with some members of his party


Not everybody is signing up for the bipartisan consensus on China. President Biden has extended tariffs on Chinese goods first imposed by President Trump. Biden even added new tariffs this month, and a key Republican congressman told this program that Biden made the right move. Jared Polis disagrees. The Democratic governor of Colorado called the tariffs, quote, "horrible news." So we called him up to ask why and found him as he was riding as a passenger in a car.

JARED POLIS: I'm in Greeley, Colo., in northern Colorado, signing bills, behavioral health, supporting our economy. But I'm excited to catch up with you about why we need a better direction and embrace trade with all of our partners.

INSKEEP: Governor Polis was driving through a state with a lot of sunny days, and that is a big part of the context for the governor's concerns about tariffs. Colorado has hundreds of companies that make or install solar panels - solar panels that Chinese companies make cheaply. Some Colorado manufacturers of solar panels may be happy with tariffs on their Chinese competition. The installers are not happy to see higher prices for the goods they sell.

POLIS: Tariffs are a regressive form of tax and they hit consumers, especially something like solar panels. Because guess what? We all pay electricity bills. We all pay utility bills. This makes it more expensive for all of our utilities in this area - it's Xcel - to be able to buy new power, which they need to keep up with the energy transition. So it's passed along directly to consumers. If there need to be national security tariffs around, you know, microchips and those things, I think we can look at that because obviously there's geopolitical complexities with China, but it's something that's so core to consumer costs. If we're serious about reducing inflation we should be talking about reducing tariffs, not increasing tariffs.

INSKEEP: It's true that tariffs make products more expensive in the United States, but this is part of the administration's industrial policy, as I understand it. President Biden wants the United States to make its own electric cars, its own wind turbines, its own computer chips, for that matter. Isn't that wise?

POLIS: Well, to be clear, President Biden is better than President Trump in this regard. But I think that what they need to do is if they really feel that for geopolitical reasons, they need to be tougher with regard to tariffs on China, to mitigate that, they should embrace expanding the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement to other countries. Because on its own, imposing tariffs are extra costs passed directly to American consumers that lead to greater inflation and costs.

INSKEEP: You are pointing out that President Trump is promising, if he returns to office, to add further tariffs to what's going on.

POLIS: Well, and very specifically, he said 100%, I want 200%. So it's this game of oneupsmanship and the loser is the American economy and the American consumer.

INSKEEP: I understand that Colorado has a lot of clean energy employment. What are you hearing from people in that industry who are supposed to be helped by some of these tariffs?

POLIS: Well, there's no question it'll slow down the deployment of solar energy, not just in Colorado but across the country. China is a major producer, yes. There's supply coming online from Vietnam. There is some domestic supply, but there's a backlog. It increases costs and decreases supply to add incredibly punitive tariffs and penalties and taxes to Chinese solar panels that we need to provide clean, renewable energy to the people of Colorado.

INSKEEP: How much debate is there within your party on this question of tariffs against China?

POLIS: Well, look, first of all, there's a broad appreciation for national security needs first and foremost. And when it comes to something like CHIPS Act and industrial technology that's key to the national defense sector, I think it's fair to have a discussion about our self-sufficiency and our industrial base, although frankly, I would expand that to the allied industrial base in the Americas and Europe and yes, also allies in Southeast Asia. But when it comes to consumer products, I think these tariffs are very ill-informed. And I worry that, God forbid, if the country elects Donald Trump, he'll make it even worse.

INSKEEP: Governor, I can't let you go without asking about, directly, the Biden reelection campaign. President Biden is still a little behind in national polling averages, seems to be behind in a lot of swing states. As a party leader, how concerned are you about his prospects this fall?

POLIS: President Biden's running strong in Colorado. It's looking good for him. The economy's doing well. Unemployment is a record low. I think the president really needs to focus on his vision for the next four years, how he's going to make the life of everyday Americans better, and I'm confident he'll win Colorado. I'm less of an expert on other states, but I plan to help however I can.

INSKEEP: Do you think that the president can make the sale by essentially saying, I know a lot of you are not satisfied with my leadership, my approval rating is not so high, but Trump would be even worse? I'm doing the best I can, and Trump would be worse.

POLIS: The contrast should be highlighted, but I think the president needs to highlight his goals and vision for the next four years and excite people about what America can be under his leadership and with the Democratic Congress.

INSKEEP: Governor Jared Polis of Colorado, thanks so much for your time.

POLIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.