Bernie Sanders: ‘Of course’ I would use tariffs as President

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said he would use tariffs as a negotiating tool if he wins the White House but slammed President Donald Trump’s latest maneuvering in his trade war with China.

“What the President is doing is totally irrational and it is destabilizing the entire world economy,” the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said in an interview that aired on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “You do not make trade policy by announcing today that you’re going to raise tariffs by X percent and the next day by Y percent, by attacking the person you appointed as head of the Federal Reserve as an enemy of the American people.”

When asked by CNN’s Brianna Keilar if he would use tariffs to cut a deal with China during his own presidency, Sanders said that he would.

“Yeah of course, it is used in a rational way within the context of a broad, sensible trade policy. It is one tool that is available,” he said. “You’re looking at somebody, by the way, who helped lead the effort against permanent normal trade relations with China and (North American Free Trade Agreement).”

The US-China trade war ratcheted up again on Friday, with Beijing unveiling a new round of retaliatory tariffs on US goods. Trump responded swiftly to China’s announcement, saying he was increasing rates on existing tariffs on Chinese goods, and said US companies should move operations from China in response to their tit-for-tat tariffs.

“We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far better off without them,” Trump wrote in a string of tweets on Friday. The President also “ordered” American companies “to immediately start looking for an alternative to China.”

Trump’s response to the retaliatory tariffs from China and Fed policy drove a selloff Friday, leaving stocks finishing a volatile trading day sharply in the red.

While at the G7 on France’s Atlantic coast, Trump told reporters he’s had his own misgivings on the tariffs against China.

“I have second thoughts about everything,” he said, without saying what he might be reconsidering. Hours later, his press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, told reporters the President’s remark had been “greatly misinterpreted” and that “President Trump responded in the affirmative — because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher.”

Sanders has clashed with the President repeatedly over trade policy, most recently opposing the administration’s renegotiation of NAFTA, the US-Mexico-Canada agreement.

He has also used his own record on trade to draw a contrast between himself and fellow 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who supported the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Sanders did not support those proposals.

In the interview that aired Sunday, Sanders declared: “We need a rational trade policy today, not what Trump is doing by tweet.”

Yong Xiong, Victoria Cavaliere, Kate Sullivan and Gregory Krieg contributed to this report.