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U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson

On Thursday U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, met with members of the Racine Area Manufactures and Commerce and the Kenosha Chamber of Commerce to answer questions. 

STURTEVANT — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, walks a fine line with the Trump administration on free trade and tariffs.

Just one day after President Donald Trump was in Mosinee, where he gave partial credit to Wisconsin farmers for the United State Mexico Canada Agreement, Johnson on Thursday met with members of the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce and the Kenosha Chamber of Commerce to answer any questions they might have.

At Gateway Technical College’s iMET Center in Sturtevant, Johnson opened the floor to questions on anything and the conversation quickly turned to tariffs.

“This is where I definitely part company with this administration,” Johnson said. “I’m highly concerned... I don’t like government interference in markets.”

In a world without tariffs — “nirvana” — as Johnson described it, countries would be able to mutually benefit from trade.

But in reality, Johnson said the U.S. will likely continue to exist in a perpetual trade war with other countries.

“I can’t tell you where it ends,” Johnson said adding there is a “huge divide” in the Trump administration regarding tariffs.

Working with Trump

“I’m really hoping they really will look at trade as a win-win situation and conclude these negotiations as soon as possible,” Johnson said. “That’s what I’m encouraging it, and I’m encouraging it by providing them the information from Wisconsin but also American businesses that are giving me a one-page synopsis and I’m sending this up to the president.”

In his discussions, and occasional arguments, with administration officials, Johnson said he’s cautious not to be counterproductive to the Trump administration or to businesses in Wisconsin.

“I don’t want to harm his ability to use leverage to get better deals to negotiate this stuff but at the same time fulfill my responsibility,” Johnson said. “I’m highly sympathetic to the damage being done to businesses today and how that’s going to start escalating particularly in the next few months.”

However, Johnson is surprised by the reception some businesses have to the tariffs.

“I’m actually amazed by how many businesses are just screaming about ‘This is really harming us, but we’re supporting what the president is doing,’” Johnson said. “Because on the flip side they’ve been really harmed by unfair trade practices. Trade is a messy, messy and very complicated subject.”

Johnson said he has spent a lot of time with Trump on tariffs and that he understands some of the problems that are created by these policies.

“In the end, it’s going to be the president’s negotiation strategy,” Johnson said. “The guy has a method to his madness, he really does. The time I’ve spent with him he’s been engaging, he’s been gracious. He’s a hoot. They guy has got a great sense of humor, which the press just hates.”

Fixing the immigration system

Immigration has consistently been an issue at the federal level going back through several presidential administrations. Now a caravan of thousands of migrants currently working their way through Central America and Mexico, perceivably to the United States, has become a midterm talking point.

Johnson said he believes the caravan will dwindle down as it makes its way north, however he is not fully sure of that.

Regardless of the actual outcome of those migrants, Johnson said he hopes this situation will “spark some very serious legislative action.”

“Right now because we’re not going to be separate families, that obviously did not work, politically,” Johnson said. “We are in full catch and release.”

Johnson believes because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive order signed by President Barack Obama, people have been paying guides, called “coyotes,” for their children to come to the United States.

But now with the changing political climate toward immigration, and the Trump administration’s attempts to end DACA, Johnson said entire families are trying to enter the U.S.

“They realize that if you come in as a family unit, you get apprehended, you get processed, you’re disbursed and you stay,” Johnson said. “We offer complete due process to illegal immigrants, they can appeal, appeal, appeal, which is why we have at least 700,000 cases on DACA in immigration courts and there’s really not an end in sight in adjudicating it.”

Johnson said the current immigration system is “horribly broken” but it will take a step by step approach to solving some of the issues contained within it.

“We reward people for coming into this country illegally, we don’t have consequences for people coming in here illegally,” Johnson said. “Because we’re a compassionate nation. The vast majority are coming here seeking what we have. They work really hard and they’re fleeing pretty desperate situations at times. So we’re compassionate, but it’s causing an overwhelming of our system.”

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Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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