MEMPHIS, Tenn. — U.S. Senate candidate Phil Bredesen said Monday that tariffs on steel and aluminum being imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration are “pure presidential politics” but will hurt key Tennessee industries such as agriculture and auto production.
Bredesen, a Democrat and a former Tennessee governor, spoke with reporters after meeting with officials at Memphis Bioworks Foundation, an organization that supports investment in bioscience. He is seen as the leading Democrat in the race to replace Sen. Bob Corker, a two-term Republican who is not seeking re-election.
The Trump administration is clashing with trading partners around the world by imposing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, provoking retaliation from close U.S. allies including the European Union, Canada and Mexico. Trump has threatened to impose tariffs of 10 percent to 25 percent on up to $450 billion of Chinese goods, and Beijing responded to Washington’s first round of hikes by raising duties on soybeans, an important Tennessee export.
Bredesen said the tariffs will hurt farmers and automakers in Tennessee and cost the state jobs.
Trump is “playing to Ohio and to Pennsylvania,” Bredesen said, pinpointing steel-producing states that could be key battlegrounds in the 2020 presidential election.
“We are collateral damage in that, but there’s no question these tariffs hurt,” he said.
Earlier this month, dozens of Tennessee farmers sent a letter urging the state’s U.S. House delegation to oppose the tariffs. They wrote that the tariffs would raise prices for farmers to update equipment, expand production or renovate farm buildings and storage. They say anticipated retaliatory tariffs would make it harder to export Tennessee crops and hurt farmers’ ability to make ends meet.
“I’ve talked to farmers who said they’ve already lost orders just in anticipation of these tariffs coming,” Bredesen said.
American distilleries also are concerned: The European Union on Friday began rolling out tariffs on American products, including bourbon. Bredesen worried that Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey — maybe the state’s “best known product,” he said — could be affected.
Later Monday, officials said the price of Jack Daniel’s will increase in the European Union because of the impact of the bloc’s new 25 percent tariff. Phil Lynch, a spokesman for Jack Daniel’s producer Brown-Forman Corp., said the price increase for the whiskey will take effect over the next couple months as stockpiled cases of it are sold off.
The top Republican in the Senate race is U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn. Her office said Monday that Tennessee stands to be disproportionately affected by retaliatory tariffs targeting the auto, agriculture, and distilled spirits industries.
“Tariffs are intended to punish bad actors, not harm American consumers and manufacturers, but Congressman Blackburn is increasingly concerned these tariffs are a bad deal for Tennesseans,” the statement said.
Bredesen is releasing television and digital ads this week discussing the effects tariffs could have on Tennessee.