Georgia governor on trade war with China: ‘Trust the president’

Gov. Brian Kemp had just begun a question-and-answer session with eight Asian-American business owners in Gwinnett County when Tim Le, a real estate investor, asked a question on many of their minds: With threats of a trade war looming, how does the U.S. economy keep growing?

Le and the other executives had spent the first 30 minutes lavishing praise on President Donald Trump and Kemp's administration, praising the $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts that Congress adopted in 2017 and the governor's promise to slash regulations.

But with Trump’s ongoing tit-for-tat trade war with China and the constant threat of new tariffs, Le and others wanted to know whether Kemp believed the American economy can withstand new threats of trade turbulation.

The governor said the tariffs have had a scattershot impact on Georgia businesses – some are hurting, other owners told him they are “exhausted” by all the new business. His message: He said he’s hopeful “that a lot of what’s gone on recently is posturing” and that the trade war is easing.

“We have to continue to trust the president, Sen. Perdue, Secretary Perdue – the whole team he’s got working on that,” said Kemp, of Sen. David Perdue and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, two Georgians who supported his campaign.

“China has taken advantage of us for a long time – really, the rest of the world. I’m no expert on trade, but I think we’ve probably waited too long to fight this battle. And people who are getting hurt from it even understand that.”

The event at a Peachtree Corners office park was part of a national series of Republican roundtables to highlight Trump’s economic agenda. But in Georgia it also had a different goal: To boost Asian-American support for Republicans in the 7th District, a competitive territory that stretches across parts of Gwinnett. .

Each of the eight business owners pledged to support Trump’s business agenda and work to encourage voters in the Asian-American community to vote next year.

“Thanks to President Trump’s tax cuts and less regulations, we have more money in our pockets and we’re able to hire more employees. We’re doing great,” Lonnie Vo, the owner of an auto repair shop, said to Kemp.

The sunny economic messaging contrasts with signs of fiscal turmoil ahead. Kemp has ordered 4% budget cuts this year and 6% next year, saying the slash is needed so he can pay for some of his top priorities, including another teacher pay raise.

Democrats have blasted his decision, sharpening their critiques after the Department of Community Health said it might have to lay off workers to meet the edict.

"I look forward to hearing why these cuts are necessary in a growing state with a lean budget and $2.55 billion in rainy day funds," said Democratic state Rep. Sam Park.

Pressed on that question, Kemp criticized “political posturing” surrounding his orders to cut spending.

“They would be complaining if I took money out of the rainy day fund and kept the budget where it is,” he said. “We’re asking people to make government smaller and more efficient, and I believe you can do that without hurting services and programs.”