Jeff Flake - U.S. Senator ~ Arizona

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) today spoke on the Senate floor in support of free trade and American global leadership. With the administration’s recent decision to impose steep tariffs on our trading partners, Flake encouraged Congress to take action and rein in protectionist policies that pose a threat to our nation’s prosperity:

“I rise today to sound the alarm about the president’s decision to impose steep tariffs on our trading partners. Make no mistake, we are not – as some administration officials have suggested – in the leisurely early innings of a baseball game, we are in the nascent stages of a full-scale trade war. And, despite the president’s statement that this war will be “easily won,” any student of history knows that, unlike a baseball game where a winner is guaranteed, a trade war only guarantees that there will be losers. Free trade allows the most efficient allocation of labor and capital.  Protectionism stifles innovation and reduces productivity.”

Flake also warned against isolationism and the abandonment of our nation’s role as a global leader:

“What shall our friends make of such erratic behavior? How will they respond to such confusing actions? And, most importantly, how long will they remain our friends if this irrational approach continues? Alliances, institutions, pacts, that took generations to patiently build, generations more to solidify, that were paid for in both blood and treasure, are shattered in an ill-tempered second, an ill-considered tantrum, a childish taunt here, a bellicose insult there. Incoherent policy utterances, often as not by tweet, contradicted in the space of single news cycle. Muddled and mercurial, this is not grown-up leadership. Our allies are left baffled, confounded, often appalled. Make no mistake, our allies and those who look to American leadership will not wait for us to come to our senses. If we abandon our role as a leader in the world today it may very well not be there tomorrow.”

Video of Flake’s remarks can be viewed here.

A complete transcript of Flake’s prepared remarks can be viewed below.

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I rise today to sound the alarm about the president’s decision to impose steep tariffs on our trading partners.

Make no mistake, we are not – as some administration officials have suggested – in the leisurely early innings of a baseball game, we are in the nascent stages of a full-scale trade war.

And, despite the president’s statement that this war will be “easily won,” any student of history knows that, unlike a baseball game where a winner is guaranteed, a trade war only guarantees that there will be losers.

Free trade allows the most efficient allocation of labor and capital.  Protectionism stifles innovation and reduces productivity.

Recognition of this philosophy has been as close to a consensus as this body has achieved for more than seventy years, and the application of these principles have provided the foundation for growth and prosperity unimagined by previous generations.

And if tariffs aimed at our adversaries produce disastrous results, what will happen when we target our allies? 

Imagine claiming that imports from Canada represent a national security threat. Well, that’s exactly what we are doing.  Canada is our largest trading partner, a trading partner, coincidently, with whom we enjoy a trade surplus.

Just yesterday, we learned of a phone call in which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau challenged the president’s use of national security as a justification for levying tariffs against a steadfast ally.

These new tariffs imposed on our allies will not and are not going unanswered, a number of them have already announced retaliatory measures. 

In March, when the tariffs on steel and aluminum were first announced, I proposed legislation to block their implementation.

Yesterday, I joined with a bipartisan group of senators, led by Senator Corker, introducing legislation to rein in the President’s use of section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to justify protectionist measures.

This bipartisan group includes senators from coast to coast and from across the political spectrum.

The constitution grants congress the preeminent role in regulating trade and tariffs. Congress must show leadership on this issue. We are elected to be leaders, not followers here.

It is not our charge to just go along just because the president shares our party affiliation, to throw out our long-held beliefs just because they might complicate our political standing.

Let me speak for a few minutes about our unique standing in the world and the opportunities and responsibilities that come as a result.

From its very creation, the United States of America has played a vital role in world leadership. 

Our Founding Fathers showed how a band of colonies could not only break free from a despotic monarchy – but could build a functional democracy upon the sturdy scaffold of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

They entrenched this hallowed trio of principles within our Declaration of Independence, making America the first country in the world to be born not of accidents of geography or of tribe, but of an idea, a powerful idea, the idea of freedom.

More than a hundred years later, at the turn of the 20th century, one that would come to be called the American Century, President Theodore Roosevelt used his inaugural address to highlight America’s role: A country that had broken free of tyranny had a moral obligation to help others do likewise.

“Much has been given us,” Roosevelt said, “and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither. We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness into relations with other nations of the earth, and we must behave as beseems a people with such responsibilities.”

This declaration alerted Americans that the nation had arrived at a new position of global leadership, and it remains as true today as it was then.

The 20th century saw the United States transition from being merely one voice for freedom and liberty to become the preeminent leader of that sacred cause across the world.

In the forty years that followed Roosevelt’s speech, American men and women would twice be called to fight for peace in the face of world war.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans would selflessly lay down their lives for the freedom of others.

Indeed, nowhere in our national history has that been more clearly displayed than 74 years ago yesterday, when on the beaches of Normandy thousands of Americans paid the ultimate sacrifice to free our European allies from the most unspeakable tyranny the world has ever known.

But this nation’s transformation into an indispensable nation, a necessary nation, was not crafted through military might alone.

It was our efforts to build up international institutions and norms aimed at fostering democratic ideals and free market principles that truly secured the global leadership some would now squander.

I believe President Reagan best described the importance of this broader American role when, during an address to the British Parliament in the depth of the Cold War, he said this:

“Our military strength is a prerequisite to peace, but let it be clear, we maintain this strength in the hope it will never be used, for the ultimate determinate in the struggle that’s now going on in the world will not be bombs and rockets, but a test of wills and ideas, a trial of spiritual resolve, the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish, the ideals to which we are dedicated.”

By 1945, the United States contributed about half of the world’s entire economic activity. And in 1991, we emerged from the Cold War as the world’s sole superpower.

The Soviet Union was in a glorious free fall, shedding Republics by the day.  Eastern Europe was squinting out into the light of liberation for the first time in forty years.  Free markets and free minds were sweeping the world.

I vividly recall the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the time I was in Africa, assisting in the transition to democracy of the newly independent country of Namibia, as it shrugged off the shackles of apartheid.

A continent away, a dissident playwright, Vaclav Havel, emerged from a communist prison to become the president of a liberated Czechoslovakia. Appearing before a joint session of our Congress he praised the powerful inspiration of American democracy. And he thanked us for liberating Europe - once again - from the tyrant’s grip.”

Both 1945 and 1991 were moments of American global success, where this nation could easily have chosen to turn inward, leaving the rest of the community of nations to fend for themselves.

Or we could have simply maintained our dominance through sheer economic supremacy and military strength.

We chose neither.

Instead, we chose to build the foundations of a global order based upon the values we venerate, the beliefs we cherish, the ideals we aspire to.

A world where leaders must earn the support of their peers – not through the coercive tactics of bluster and threat, but rather through the virtue of their actions and the wisdom of their policies.

Winston Churchill famously opined, “Democracy is the worst form of government ... except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” It was a wry acknowledgement that however messy it may sometimes seem in practice, democracy’s genius lies in its regular renewal of the people’s mandate, what Thomas Jefferson called, “the consent of the governed.”

It is our responsibility to be the premier example of this democratic order. This is the golden thread that leads all the way back to our founding fathers.

But today, today that golden thread of continuity is in danger of being snapped.

Today, we appear to be turning our back on this responsibility – a responsibility upheld by previous generations:

The generations who crafted the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and Japan after World War II, helping to shape our two most aggressive enemies into two of our most stalwart allies.

The generations who crafted pivotal international organizations like NATO, the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization, forums for multilateral compromise to take the place of war as the primary arbiter of conflict between nations.

The generations who negotiated nuclear disarmament treaties, pulling us back from the brink of Atomic Armageddon.

But no more.

Instead we find ourselves led by those who express admiration for authoritarianism - in Russia, in China, in the Philippines, and other places who make common cause with bullies, who flirt with tyrants.

We see a world descending into an atavistic tribalism, a political primitivism where dealings between nations are driven by fear and antagonism, bullying and threats, taunts and brinkmanship, rather than mutual benefit and comity. 

We find ourselves led by those who would fall for isolationist instincts and antiquated, pre-industrial, protectionist economic philosophies – the very same, short-sighted nostrums that ushered in the great depression.

Those that would reject a decades-long consensus on the virtue of free trade, open markets, international interdependence – the policies which have led to the greatest sustained growth our world has ever seen.

What shall our friends make of such erratic behavior? How will they respond to such confusing actions? And, most importantly, how long will they remain our friends if this irrational approach continues?

Alliances, institutions, pacts, that took generations to patiently build, generations more to solidify, that were paid for in both blood and treasure, are shattered in an ill-tempered second, an ill-considered tantrum, a childish taunt here, a bellicose insult there.

Incoherent policy utterances, often as not by tweet, contradicted in the space of single news cycle. Muddled and mercurial, this is not grown-up leadership. Our allies are left baffled, confounded, often appalled.

Make no mistake, our allies and those who look to American leadership will not wait for us to come to our senses. If we abandon our role as a leader in the world today it may very well not be there tomorrow.

We saw this vividly displayed in the decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

After we hastily pulled out of those negotiations, the other eleven countries involved did not go home. They did not give up on trade or come back to us on bended knee begging the United States to rejoin the process. They simply shrugged and continued on their own, leaving us behind.

Countries in Southeast Asia who would prefer to be part of the American trade orbit now have no choice but to be sucked into China’s vortex.

This is the same China that our president correctly acknowledges as America’s primary global competitor.

Once again, the absurdity of protectionist policies is laid bare. 

The question facing all of us today is this: Do we really want to be the generation who finally gave in to the backward, regressive tug of American isolationism?

Do we want future generations to refer to American leadership in the world only in the past tense, with a rueful nostalgia?

Are we truly ready to abandon the “shining city on a hill” described by John Winthrop and echoed so eloquently by Ronald Reagan?

Do we believe that the United States of America is still, “the last best hope of earth,” as Abraham Lincoln once proclaimed?

We are not perfect. We have faltered in our leadership at times. At others we have struggled to determine how best to project our national values.

But it is our leadership – as the designated driver of the vehicle of world order - the so-called Pax Americana – that, for more than seventy years, has maintained unprecedented peace and prosperity throughout the world.

Yes, the world we live in is far from a perfect place, but I believe it is a far better place as a result of American leadership.

It has been said that the universe abhors a vacuum, and if we do not lead, someone else will. Those that would most likely do so, do not share our democratic values.

We should not wish for future generations of Americans to come of age in a world led by someone else. 

Freedom, as John F. Kennedy once proclaimed, “is not merely a word or an abstract theory, but the most effective instrument for advancing the welfare of man.”

We owe it to those generations who have come before us, and those who will come after us, to recognize that our defense of that freedom, in all its forms – from free-speech and free-thought to free-markets and free-trade – is not an act of recreation.

Let us pointedly declare to those who would suggest otherwise that the crossroads we find ourselves at are not the early innings of any game, but an historic moment in which we will either reaffirm our commitment to the values that have served us so well for so long or engage in a trade war that will lead only to economic disaster.

Let us not falter in our mission to promote and protect this value of freedom. Let us not turn away from this most noble of responsibilities.

Let us proudly take the torch passed to us from our parents and our parents’ parents. 

Let us continue to serve as a beacon of hope, a shining light of freedom seen across a volatile world.

This light stretches from the lanterns in Boston’s Old North church, lit during the midnight ride of Paul Revere, to the light that shines above our Capitol today.

It is the light of freedom, the very spirit of America. And it must never be extinguished.

I yield the floor.

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