NOEL KING, HOST:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is usually a political ally of Republicans. But the pro-business lobbying group took a very public stand yesterday against President Trump's tariffs. Trade works. Tariffs don't. That's what the Chamber of Commerce said in a statement that denounced the tariffs that the administration has levied against China, the EU, Canada and Mexico. The Chamber's statement goes on to argue that the retaliatory measures imposed in response to American tariffs will raise prices, cost jobs and threaten the U.S. economy.
John Murphy is with me now. He's a senior vice president with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Good morning, Mr. Murphy.
JOHN MURPHY: Good morning. Great to be here.
KING: Great to have you. President Trump tweeted this morning that the U.S. economy is doing well. He mentioned, quote, "fixing some of the worst and most unfair trade deals ever made by any country." Mr. Trump was very clear as a candidate that he thought America's trade policies were bad. I wonder, is there any reason to be surprised that he's doing what he's doing?
MURPHY: Well, the president's right that the economy's doing well. We've got strong growth, record low unemployment. Our concern is that these trade actions threaten to put all of that at risk. This week, we're calling it retaliation week because there's a wave of retaliatory tariffs imposed by other countries against $75 billion of U.S. exports. And it's all coming online at once. Canada acted on July 1; on July 5, we have Mexico acting; and China the next day. This is going to take some momentum out of the economy. It's going to be a direct hit to specific companies, specific ranchers, farmers all across the country.
KING: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a lot of clout. This is not a small organization. Have you had the opportunity to talk to the president, to talk to his administration and try to dissuade them from imposing tariffs?
MURPHY: We're in constant communication with the administration, and we've made our views clear. Just last week, for instance, we shared our comments with them about the proposed tariff on automobile and auto parts imports and also with the Congress, of course. Last week, we were up on the Hill for a day with about 150 business representatives and agriculture association representatives sharing our views with the Congress. There's a real breadth of opposition to these tariffs across the U.S. business community.
KING: But then why are you failing to persuade this administration that these tariffs are a bad idea?
MURPHY: Well, the president has held these views for some time. That much is clear from the public record. Our hope is that by showing this breadth of support from across the country and particularly from the heartland - including, incidentally, from red states, from purple states, from people who voted for the president - that that will have an impact.
KING: There are businesses, like U.S. Steel, that support the tariffs. And I wonder, does every member of your group agree that tariffs are a bad idea? Or is there some debate on that?
MURPHY: There is some debate. But I have to say, it's rare to see as much unanimity about trade issues as I see these days. You know, take the NAFTA negotiations. The breadth of support we see for NAFTA and modernizing it and not throwing it away, not withdrawing from it, is very impressive. Or the auto tariffs I just mentioned - I don't think there's anyone in the U.S. auto sector - whether it's the big three or small auto parts manufacturers - that support those tariffs.
KING: Your group has 3 million members, so this next question may be tough. I wonder, do you have a story of how this trade dispute is hurting one of your members?
MURPHY: Oh, my phone rings all the time...
KING: Does it?
MURPHY: ...With these kinds of stories, you know? I heard from an equipment manufacturer in the Midwest who said that the increased price of steel, which is up about 50 percent this year because of the tariffs, it's cost them twice as much as the benefit that they're getting from tax reform. I hear from small auto parts manufacturers that - they don't want to come out and say it publicly yet - but the hit that they're taking, they think they can hold on another 60 days or so until their cash flow just gives out and they have to start laying people off.
KING: Those are very sympathetic stories. I wonder, why don't they want to come out and say it publicly?
MURPHY: Well, I think many more are doing so. And you see this in the press. We all read about the nail manufacturer in Missouri, locker manufacturers, keg manufacturers. You know, what's, I think, really heartbreaking is what it does to small- and medium-sized manufacturers in particular. They don't have options that sometimes larger companies can rejigger their supply chain. It's the smaller firms that suffer the most. And the impact, we see it - for every beneficiary, there are at least a dozen or two dozen companies on the other side of the equation that suffer.
KING: And I suppose the big question is - if more of them speak out, will we see a change in these policies? Last question for you, sir, the Chamber of Commerce gives millions of dollars to pro-business candidates. In this next election cycle, are you prepared to withhold contributions from candidates who support the president's tariffs? Briefly, please.
MURPHY: We are looking at the whole array of issues. We have to take into account a broad agenda. But this is definitely a top priority for us right now. It's an area of top concern. Otherwise, we wouldn't be out making this message as clearly as we are at the present.
KING: That is John Murphy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Thanks so much, Mr. Murphy.
MURPHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.