JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took his fight against President Donald Trump's proposed trade tariffs to a plastics manufacturer and food processor and distributor Tuesday, traveling the state as part of a rare public break with the fellow Republican.
Walker is part of a broad group of Republicans — including House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Janesville, and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson — who are urging Trump to reconsider the tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, saying they could spark a trade war, hurt Wisconsin-based companies and force jobs overseas.
Labor unions and liberal Democrats have applauded Trump's approach. Republicans and an array of business groups, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, are warning of dire economic and political consequences. The tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports could be imposed within two weeks.
Ryan on Tuesday called for Trump to back away from his plan for broad tariffs in favor of a "more surgical approach" to avert a trade war. Trump has held out the possibility of exempting Canada and Mexico if they agree to better terms under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The Trump administration has argued that the tariffs are necessary to preserve the American aluminum and steel industries and protect national security. But Trump has also suggested they could be used as leverage in the current talks to revise NAFTA.
Walker's dispute with Trump on trade comes as he faces re-election in the fall and both he and Trump's approval ratings in the state are below 50 percent. Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point in 2016.
Walker had previously written an op-ed column in opposition to the tariffs, but on Tuesday he went to talk to workers at Oshkosh plastics manufacturer Bemis Industrial Products and at Seneca Foods in Janesville, a food processor and distributor with nine plants in the state.
Bemis, which is based in Neenah, employs about 5,000 people in Wisconsin and uses ultra-thin aluminum used to make a variety of products, including packaging for cream cheese and medical devices.
Walker argues that the tariffs could hurt workers at those companies and other major employers, including MillerCoors and Harley-Davidson, by disrupting the market, driving up prices, and forcing layoffs and plant closure as jobs and operations move elsewhere.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who like Walker faces re-election this year, withheld judgment, saying she wants to see all the details of the administration's plan. Baldwin said she supports sending a "strong message to bad actors" like Russia and China, but she also fears a blanket tariff could start a trade war with allies like Canada and hurt Wisconsin manufacturers and the state's agricultural economy.
Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir, one of two Republicans running to take on Baldwin, didn't take as strong of a stance against the tariffs as Walker did on Tuesday.
"Gov. Walker is right that free trade benefits Wisconsin in so many ways," said Vukmir's campaign manager, Jess Ward. "But at the same time Leah believes we need to make certain we negotiate the best possible trade deals, and she applauds the president's efforts to fight for better deals for Wisconsin."
Delafield businessman Kevin Nicholson, who is challenged Vukmir, issued a statement through his spokesman that did not directly address the tariffs, but expressed support for renegotiating trade deals to benefit the U.S.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP