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Wyoming Lawmakers Closely Watch Trump's Global Trade War

Willow Belden

Wyoming lawmakers are sticking by President Trump as he escalates his global trade war even as fear is growing that it will soon be felt from the state's oil fields all the way down to the electronics you rely on.

Wyoming oil and gas companies are already facing a labor shortage, but now those companies may soon get hit with another sucker punch: the increased cost of buy buying the steel they rely on every day. Steel is used from everything to the pipes used to drill wells to the pipes used to carry that black gold and even natural gas to market. As those costs of doing business go up, it will either mean fewer jobs, or you'll be paying more money at the pump. Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney admitted she's hearing about it but she's being patient for now.

"We've got to wait and see. It's the one area - I just met with some chamber of commerce folks this morning - and the economy is going great and everybody is very pleased about that, but the one area where you do begin to hear a little bit of nervousness is trade."

Like Wyoming's senators, Cheney said she's a proud free trader. Still, she's giving the president room to negotiate - and she believes most of the people's she's talked to back home are too.

"So far, people have - the perspective has been, we understand that this is an effort to get better trade deals to help improve the situation.' They're giving the president support still in terms of let's let him run the negotiations out here."

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso serves on the Foreign Relations Committee. A couple months ago they held a hearing on the potential impact of the tariff - or trade war - and he voiced his concerns about the potential impact of what many experts now say has become a full-blown, tit for tat trade.

"You know, I'm concerned just as everyone is at the impact of the steel and aluminum tariffs on businesses and consumers."

Back in July Barrasso and Wyoming senior Senator Mike Enzi were two of just eleven GOP senators to oppose a bill meant to signal to Trump that the Senate is watching his trade war and that they'll intervene if it escalates. Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey - a staunch conservative and reliable Trump ally - sponsored the bill. He says it was important because it states that the president can't use the national security designation, known as section 232, to levy tariffs without the approval of Congress.

"To put senators on record either supporting or opposing the idea, then Congress should have some say in invoking section 232 tariffs. This would be new and it's very important, I think, as a first step to doing something."

While Barrasso is worried about the impact steel tariffs may have on Wyoming's oil and gas industry, he's been pushing the administration to use that 232 authority to launch an investigation into uranium imports, which he argues are hurting Wyoming's large uranium industry.

"Because what we've been seeing for years is that uranium producers owned by the government in Russia, in Kazakhstan and in Uzbekistan, they've unfairly flooded our American markets with cheap uranium to the point that today American producers fulfill less than 5% of our US demand for uranium."

But a growing number of Republicans are getting restless with the trade war and want it wound down, not ratcheted up. Virginia Republican Rob Wittman has a large farming, seafood and manufacturing base in his district. He says patience is starting to wear thin in his district.

"Listen, I understand the president wanting to have greater leverage in negotiating with China, but he's got to understand the long-term impact it will have back here, so that means they've got to get something done. The longer it goes on the bigger impact it has."

But Congresswoman Cheney said, at least for now, Wyoming's agriculture community has been largely shielded from the brunt of the trade war. So for now, she's getting briefed by the Trump administration and remaining optimistic that Trump's hard nose tactic will end up working.

"I understand what he's doing, but I share the concern of my constituents, that we want to make sure that we don't end up having more pain, and frankly, slowing down the economy. We've had tremendous economic recovery and we want to make sure we keep that going."

Still, Cheney added that Wyoming business owners do have a breaking point.

"They're not to the point yet where folks are saying they don't like the policy, but they're sort of raising some cautionary notes about 'this is an area where we're a little nervous.'"

Nervousness in the business community often means holding off on investments, which has most every Republican worried that the trade war will be felt by their voters soon. And they're hoping they don't feel it ahead of November's elections.

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