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Ryan chides Trump on trade, cautioning that China stands to gain global status

Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan addresses the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan addresses the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. on Thursday. (Cliff Owen/AP)

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan gently chided President Trump over trade Thursday, cautioning that “new tariffs are not the solution” even as Trump escalates his trade war with China.

Speaking at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., Ryan (R-Wis.) also warned that the United States risks “being left behind in global trade” if it abandons trade deals Trump has shunned while also failing to strike new ones.

Ryan’s comments come as Trump threatens an additional $200 billion of tariffs on Chinese exports, following $34 billion already levied that caused China to retaliate in kind — with no sign of either country backing down.

“This administration has been vocal about trade abuses taking place. It is right to be. There are unquestionably bad actors, most notably China,” Ryan said. “But I’ve made my view clear: New tariffs are not the solution.”

That line drew applause from his audience, and Ryan remarked: “It’s the only applause line I got all day? Good grief!”

Ryan praised the goals of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multination trade pact Trump abandoned.

“Now, the president has made clear that he prefers bilateral trade agreements over multinational ones like TPP. That view is reasonable, so long as reaching those direct pacts remains a priority,” Ryan said.

“Otherwise, we risk having American products locked out of new markets, jobs moved overseas and a decline in American influence,” Ryan said.

“This matters. As our generals will tell you, these agreements are just as important for our national security as they are for our economy.”

Despite Ryan’s criticism of Trump’s trade policies, he has shown little interest in legislative action that could curb the president’s approach. The House appears unlikely to take up even a nonbinding provision, such as the one the Senate passed Wednesday asserting Congress should have a role in national security tariffs.

During a question-and-answer session with the Economic Club president, David Rubenstein, Ryan essentially ruled out a legislative answer on tariffs.

“You would have to pass a law saying, ‘Don’t raise those tariffs,’ and the president would have to sign that law. That’s not going to happen,” Ryan said.

Ryan will be retiring from the House at the end of the year, and he used his speech to renew long-standing goals he has held throughout his career, including a focus on conservative approaches to bring people out of poverty.

“None whatsoever,” Ryan said when asked whether he had regrets about not running for reelection. He said he hadn’t decided what he would be doing next — but said he had no plans to run for president.

“You never say never to such things, but I really do not have it in my mind,” Ryan said.

Ryan also boasted of economic gains from the tax law he helped pass, even though wage increases for workers have been limited. And he disputed an assertion that the law would add more than $1 trillion to the debt over the next decade.

“The tax law is not the problem when it comes to the debt. You have to have growth. It is entitlements,” Ryan said, calling that a piece of unfinished business that he has devoted much of his life to.

Ryan was also asked about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any involvement by Trump’s campaign. He said Mueller should be allowed to finish his investigation but urged it to happen quickly.