Jeff Flake Really Loves Free Trade, Promises to Block Trump's Tariffs

Senator Jeff Flake really loves free trade, and said he'll hit back at President Trump to prove it. He has vowed to counter Trump's proclamations on tariffs.

The outgoing Arizona senator, as well as pretty much every other mainstream Republican, is allergic to Trump's new protectionist measures on aluminum and steel imports. In a statement on Thursday, Flake called the tariffs "a marriage of two lethal poisons to economic growth — protectionism and uncertainty."

"Trade wars are not won, they are only lost," Flake said in the statement. "Congress cannot be complicit as the administration courts economic disaster. I will immediately draft and introduce legislation to nullify these tariffs, and I urge my colleagues to pass it before this exercise in protectionism inflicts any more damage on the economy.”

Free trade fans are racing to assess the impact of Trump's tariffs on imports, which the president will sign on Thursday. Critics say these measures could kick off a trade war, depending on which countries are affected — Mexico and Canada are exempt for the time being. At a cabinet meeting, Trump argued that these tariffs will protect American workers.
It will be pretty interesting if Flake ends up introducing legislation to counter Trump's tariffs, potentially setting up yet another clash between the two politicians. Flake has criticized Trump as a stain on the Republican Party and Trump, taking the bait, has engaged in name-calling in response — "Senator Flake(y) — while calling Flake weak on crime and the border.

Nevertheless, Flake has had no such qualms about supporting Trump's agenda on plenty of other occasions. See his votes on the president's massive tax giveaway for the wealthiest people in the country, or his support of efforts to scuttle the Affordable Care Act.

In that sense, Flake's pushback when it comes to tariffs is interesting considering that he falls in line with Trump's awful agenda most of the time, as long as it matches Republican wisdom. His main criticisms of Trump, published in a political bible Flake released last summer, zero in on Trump's uncouthness and lack of any tether to reality; Flake says these qualities have infected the Republican Party, making it impossible for him to run for re-election in good conscience.

But when it comes to the Trump administration's rollback on health care and LGBTQ rights that could seriously harm millions of people, Flake shrugs. Not so on free trade, apparently. The difference? Flake is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, and unlike basic human rights, this is an issue the Republican donor class cares about a great deal.

This latest entry in Flake's war with Trump might not be the last.

The senator will make a portentous trip to New Hampshire on March 16, spurring on speculation about the possibility of a "Flake for President" campaign in 2020, where Flake might challenge Trump or run as an independent.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty