Columns

Sessions on Trade: There’s ‘Nothing Wrong’ with ‘Honest Populism’

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said the American public is more worried about America’s trade policy in this election cycle compared to past races, adding that there is nothing wrong with “honest populism.”

Sessions, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, attributed the growing concern among voters about trade to the decline in manufacturing in the U.S.

“I think the concern about trade has expanded. I think the concern about immigration has expanded and the American people, as Newt Gingrich said not too long ago, are in revolt,” Sessions said at an Americans for Limited Government event. “They’ve asked their politicians to fix the immigration system for 30 years and they’ve refused. They’ve expressed concern for 30 years over trade and the politicians have refused to respond.”

Sessions cited President Obama’s trade agreement with South Korea as an example of a poor deal since the U.S. trade deficit with the country has increased since its implementation.

During the event, pollster Pat Caddell unveiled the results of an online survey that found substantial opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after the participants learned more about the specifics of the trade pact. In total, 1,950 voters participated in the poll from February to March. Most of the respondents said they would oppose Congress passing the TPP during a lame-duck session after the presidential election.

Sessions, who has endorsed Donald Trump for president, told reporters that bad trade deals are hurting American workers and there is nothing wrong with populism if it’s “honest.” Trump has made his strong stance on trade with countries such as China and Japan a centerpiece of his campaign.

“As one of my smart, brilliant Alabama friends said – they say this is populism, but nothing wrong with populism if it is honest populism, and I think it is honest that the American working person is getting hammered by these trade deals – somebody needs to speak up for them,” Sessions said.

Quoting 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Sessions said America should stand up to China.

“As Mitt Romney said in his primary eight years ago – he had a great, great line. I can still quote it. His line was ‘if you don’t stand up to China, they will run over you. If you stand up to them, they will say it’s a trade war, but we’re in a trade war. We’re just not fighting.’ And then he said this: ‘And anyway they have more to lose than we do,’” Sessions said. “So when you go into a negotiation you need to know who’s got the upper hand.”

Sessions said more and more Americans are asking, “Why does this deal, law, policy or similar action not benefit the American people?”

“Rather it is benefiting foreigners and it is often something that is detrimental to the American citizens,” he said. “Things like giving away our jobs to visa holders or illegal aliens benefit the rich, who finance politicians but only serve to destroy the quality of life for the average middle class American.”

Sessions argued that trade deals such as the TPP put “America’s sovereignty and manufacturing sector on the chopping block, with much of what used to be our means of earning a livelihood now being relocated to low wage labor markets or with low-wage workers being imported to take our jobs.”

Despite growing pressure from the White House, the Republican-controlled Congress has not passed the TPP.