The Daily Signal’s Jarrett Stepman interviewed Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., about the issue of tariffs and his recent letter to NATO demanding a response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the United Kingdom. Here is a lightly edited transcript of their exchange, which you may also watch above.
Jarrett Stepman: I’m very pleased to be joined today by Sen. Ben Sasse. Thank you so much for being here.
Ben Sasse: Good to be here.
Stepman: First off, trade has been in the news a lot lately. What do you think of President Donald Trump’s recent proposal about steel and aluminum tariffs?
Sasse: It’ll hurt American families, it’ll hurt our consumers, and it’ll hurt workers. It’ll hurt workers even in the steel industries, so we need to back up and have a big conversation about why trade is good. Trade is good, not just as a matter of economic theory, though it is that, but trade is indisputably good in U.S. history, and we need to help the people understand what the equation actually looks like around trade.
When you have more trade, what that means is government’s getting out of the way and government’s not standing there saying they want to have a bureaucrat decide how to tax a transaction you want to make.
When a voluntary producer and a voluntary consumer want to make stuff and buy stuff and sell stuff together, that means there’s a lot of good things happening in the world and consumers indisputably win when there’s more trade.
But what surprises a lot of the public when you actually look at the numbers is that producers also win when there’s more trade. NAFTA has led to lots of net job creation in the U.S. Steel tariffs would be really, really bad for all 320 million Americans who are buying stuff that have steel and metal in them, which is true of everybody’s going to the store today at any point.
Even at the level of production, before you get to retaliation, even at the level of production, there’ll be job loss in the steel-using industries because of these tariffs, somewhere on the order of 13 jobs lost for every job preserved. That’s a bad equation for American families.
Stepman: You recently wrote a letter with Sen. John McCain about this issue in Russia with an ex-spy being poisoned there in the U.K., and his daughter, basically demanding NATO respond to this. Do you think the United States should have an additional response?
Sasse: First of all, we need to understand what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is doing. Putin tries to sow discord abroad. His economy is collapsing at home. The only thing the Putin economy is good for is all of his cronious buddies and the way they steal from their people.
But what Putin wants to do is sow dissent and discord abroad as a way to try to prop up himself at home and distract people from what’s actually happening as their economy collapses, so Putin is waging a shadow war. He does this with lots of cyberattacks. Most of it is classified, but there have been some things in the paper the last few days about Russian meddling and exploration and hacking inside U.S. systems.
Obviously, we know the way Russia tried to get involved in the U.S. election in 2016, and the way they meddle in every big culture dispute in the U.S. Right after the tragedies of the Parkland shooting, for instance, some of the nuttiest, crazy pro-gun control stuff on the internet in the U.S. was actually done by Putin hacks and cronies trying to sow discord in America. And now we see his shadow war using nerve agents on the free soil of our great ally, the United Kingdom.
We need to have a coordinated response, both so that Putin knows that these actions are not without consequence, but also so that the American people can be brought along to understand what Putin’s up to.
NATO is unbelievably wonderful for the American people over history. Obviously, it’s one of the most successful military alliances in the history of Western civilization. It won the Cold War, and now we need NATO to transition to an era of cyber warfare and shadow war like Putin’s conducting now.
Chairman McCain—I serve on the Armed Services Committee, and John McCain is the chairman of that committee—he and I have reached out to both Mike Pompeo, the current head of the CIA and President Trump’s designee to be secretary of state, and to Jim Mattis, our secretary of defense.
And we’ve asked them to direct Gen. [Curtis] Scaparrotti and our ambassador at NATO—Scaparrotti is the supreme allied commander of NATO—to lead a discussion that would help all of our allies inside NATO prepare for a coordinated response to Russian aggression abroad.
Stepman: Thank you so much for joining me. It’s really my pleasure.
Sasse: Thanks for having me.