Republican Senate candidate John James of Michigan positioned himself as a hawk on China in a call with reporters on Friday, pitching proposals to return jobs to Michigan that have been lost to Chinese and other foreign markets.
James, a West Point graduate who served in the Iraq War, was joined on the call by Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.). A fellow army veteran and China hawk, Cotton is scheduled to make campaign stops with James in western Michigan.
“Michigan’s manufacturing is critical to keeping this nation healthy and safe. And Michigan, I believe, is ground zero of the Chinese government’s long-term strategy to hollow out the American manufacturing base,” James said during the press call. James vowed to author a “repatriation act” to spur economic growth in the state.
“The people of Michigan know all too well just how badly China has treated the United States on our trade deals, taking our jobs and factories, while at the same time they undermine the very global trading system that has helped bring so much prosperity to America,” Cotton said before giving his endorsement to James.
The race between James and incumbent Senator Gary Peters, a Democrat, has narrowed to within one percentage point according to a New York Times/Siena College poll released on Tuesday. Republicans and Democrats are closely watching Michigan, which helped propel President Trump to victory in 2016 but then elected a raft of Democratic candidates, such as Representative Elissa Slotkin, in 2018.
Crucially, the Trump administration and China have been locked in a trade war for much of the president’s tenure. A 2019 study by Federal Reserve economists Aaron Flaen and Justin Pierce concluded that the ongoing tariff war has had a detrimental effect on most U.S. manufacturing industries. Michigan’s economy contains a large manufacturing sector, and according to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the state has lost 55,000 manufacturing jobs since the president’s inauguration.
Meanwhile, the Commerce Department has announced that the U.S. trade deficit with China reached $67.1 billion in August 2020, the highest in 14 years. While both governments agreed to a Phase 1 deal that has allowed for the renewed export of agricultural goods to the Chinese market, relations between the U.S. and China have hit a new nadir with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
When asked what specific policies James would implement to revitalize Michigan’s economy, the candidate reiterated his support for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 and advocated regulatory reforms favorable to the state’s farmers and small businesses.
“I would…support regulatory reform that allows our farmers to compete in foreign markets, and also to stop and reduce ‘dumping’ of foreign commodities into our state,” James said. However, James cautioned that placing tariffs on Chinese or other foreign goods are “tools in…negotiations, and the ultimate goal must be fair trade and opening additional markets for America to compete in.”
“I don’t support a trade war or a war of any kind, but tariffs [are] a part of negotiation. I believe they should be temporary, and while we’re in this situation, we need to make sure that we give those on the front the resources they need to compete,” James said.