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‘Accept the pain’: Lindsey Graham defends Trump’s escalating trade war with China

As markets have reacted with turmoil to President Trump’s escalating threats against China, one of the president’s staunchest allies in Congress had a stark message for American businesses and consumers: “Accept the pain” that comes with a trade war.

“We’ve just got to accept the pain that comes with standing up to China,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) in a Sunday appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “How do you get China to change without creating some pain on them and us? I don’t know.”

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Trump caused strife in trading rooms on Friday when he promised a 5-percentage-point increase on all existing and planned Chinese tariffs and then “ordered” U.S. firms to stop doing business in China. Those threats came at an already volatile moment, with American indicators suggesting a potential recession and Trump questioning on Twitter whether Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome H. Powell is an “enemy” of the United States.

The Dow Jones industrial average responded by falling 600 points at the end of the day as many business groups slammed Trump’s message. At the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, on Sunday, Trump appeared to express remorse at the economic tit-for-tat with Beijing — but then quickly backtracked, insisting his only regret was not raising tariffs even higher.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Aug. 25 defended President Trump's earlier remarks on the China trade war. (Video: The Washington Post)

Graham on Sunday acknowledged Trump’s policy will have real-world impacts on Americans’ pocketbooks, as well as on key industries in his home state, like auto manufacturing.

“Consumer prices on commodities are going to go up,” the senator told “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan. “We’re now at that point of the trade war where you’ll feel price increases at Walmart.”

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But Graham said he would urge Trump to continue ramping up pressure on Beijing anyway.

“Mr. President, listen, you’ve got more bullets than they do. They sell us a lot more stuff than we sell them,” he said “The goal is to get them to change their behavior.”

Such a change will only happen when the Chinese economy takes a blow from tariffs and other retaliatory measures, he argued.

“The Chinese Communist Party runs everything in China, and until they feel the pain, they’re not going to stop,” he said. “They need to change their intellectual theft practice, they need to open up their markets to us, they need to become a reliable trading partner.”

Many U.S. business groups had an opposite message for Trump after Friday’s newly escalated tensions with Beijing, urging the president to find a compromise to end the conflict.

“Trump may be frustrated with China, but the answer isn’t for U.S. companies to ignore a market with 1.4 billion consumers,” Myron Brilliant, the executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement on Friday. “Escalating tensions is not good for market stability, investor confidence or American jobs.”

Democratic presidential candidates also lashed out at the president, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) suggesting Trump’s threats would “threaten the global economy and increase the risk of a recession,” and former vice president Joe Biden arguing Trump’s administration was “falling apart” on economic plans.

Graham suggested political fallout was part of the Chinese calculus, and said Beijing is betting a Democrat will win back the White House and reverse course.

“I think they’re trying to wait Trump out. I think they’ve made a calculation that our elections are right around the corner, they can play this game until 2020,” he said. “If Trump keeps piling on, I don’t know if they can make it that long.”

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