HURON — A breakdown of face-to-face trade negotiations with China is leaving Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., pessimistic about a deal any time soon, but the United States in some respects has some leverage because the Chinese are running out of American goods to place tariffs on, he said Monday in Huron.
It had seemed that the two countries were on the right path to an agreement when talks fell apart late last week, he said.
“Clearly, the Chinese reneged and that’s really what happened,” Johnson said during a visit at Dakota Provisions.
“Tariffs for tariffs’ sake are bad policy, they hurt people,” he said in a session with employees before taking a tour of the turkey plant.
“They represent unnecessary government intervention in business transactions between buyers and sellers and reduce liberty, economic vitality and prosperity,” he said.
When Johnson first took office four months ago, an individual with the Chinese government told him unlike Americans, who tend to be deadline driven, the Chinese have much more patience.
“I had been expecting something like that,” he said of the breakdown, “because just culturally negotiations with Chinese are different than negotiations with Japanese or Europeans or Americans. I mean there’s more of a patience and there’s less of a linear progress.”
The Chinese official also told Johnson: “There are nine different Chinese dynasties that lasted longer than the lifetime of your country.”
He said one must take care in making statements about cultural differences, “but I think that’s clearly what happened.
“It really, really irritated the president and it irritated the U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer and so I think we took about three steps back,” he said.
After his election last November, Johnson became one of 90 new members of Congress in January.
“So almost a quarter of the group turned over in one election and that’s not all that unusual,” he said. “Ninety is a little big. Normally it’s 60 or 70, but there’s a lot of turnover.
“The Republicans hadn’t been in the minority for eight years,” he said. “But only 20 percent of the Republicans had ever been in the minority before.”
Johnson also spent time Monday meeting with Dakota Provisions President and Chief Executive Officer Ken Rutledge. One of the issues they talked about was immigration.
As a nation of immigrants, the United States has never really had many demographic similarities. Instead, it is a country of numerous ethnicities and religions, he said.
Good Americans are those who are hard workers, believe in economic opportunities and follow the rules, he said. Their set of values is what binds them together, he said.
Legal immigrants in the U.S. have higher rates of marriage, lower rates of divorce and bankruptcies and higher rates of home ownership than native-born Americans, Johnson said.
“And so though you get a lot of support for legal immigration, legal work visas, legal permanent residency, that really gets drug into this political mess about the illegal discussion and that can be really, really hard to navigate,” he said.
It’s so complicated, it’s hard to imagine how any progress in a meaningful way can be made, he said.
A border wall, border security, visas and asylum are just a few of the disparate issues that get thrown in the pot, Johnson said.
“I’m somebody who is willing to take the tough votes and try to break the logjam on those things,” he said.
But he doubts any significant progress will come in the next two or three years and instead believes little steps will have to be taken where possible.
Johnson said he has been enjoying his time in Washington, D.C., more than he expected.
He has reached across the aisle to work with Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson on issues.
“He cares about the same stuff I care about,” Johnson said. “And that’s probably been the thing that I’ve appreciated the most, is how many people out there are wired to get something done.
“You kind of go out there and you expect everybody’s going to have horns and scales, right? And there are definitely a few vipers out there,” he said, “but I’m pleasantly surprised at how good a lot of the people are.”