SPRINGFIELD — Central Illinois farmers and businesses could become targets in an escalating trade dispute with China, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in Springfield Friday.
Durbin, who lives in the capital city, was at the downtown YMCA. He was pushing for Congress to pass a new farm bill and was talking up the Y’s summer food program, which is funded by the Department of Agriculture and operated in partnership with the Central Illinois Foodbank.
Asked about the 25 percent tariffs President Donald Trump said Friday he is levying on up to $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, Durbin told reporters there could be consequences at home.
Trump said the tariffs are designed to fight unfair trade practices and protect U.S. technology and intellectual property.
“Do you know, when the Chinese fire back, who will be hit first? Downstate Illinois” and “the farmers in our state who grow soybeans,” Durbin said.
He said China is a major purchaser of Illinois soybeans.
“If you talk to farmers in our region, and I talk to them a lot, they have survived over the last several years, as corn prices were low ... by the price of soybeans,” Durbin said. “Now, if we get into a trade war and the Chinese say we’re going to impose a tariff on your soybeans, we’re going to see our exports diminish and the price go down.
"The farmers and the agribusinesses and their employees in central Illinois will be the first casualties. ... I wish the president would have thought of that before he did this kind of a wholesale attack on China.”
Durbin also chided the Republican president for his recent harsh words aimed at Canada. Durbin said he had been troubled by “the notion that somehow this was all about a trade war with Canada. When did that start? I don’t remember that.”
“Canadians are our best trading partners and our best allies throughout our history,” Durbin said. “I don’t get why this president is picking a fight with Canada.”
Durbin also said he doesn’t know why Trump has yet to name a U.S. attorney for the 46-county central district of Illinois, which includes Springfield. John Childress is serving as interim U.S. attorney.
Durbin said that after Republicans in Illinois led by U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, came up with four possible nominees last year, the White House proposed a name from that list to Durbin and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, and the senators agreed.
“We both approved it, and then it stopped in place,” Durbin said. “I don’t know what happened to it, but it’s certainly not the two senators. We gave ... the thumbs-up. I thought the choice was a good one.”
Durbin didn’t name that name on Friday, but the list of four has been public: Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Milhiser, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Bass, retired Stark County Judge Thomas Keith and Joe Hartzler, who was the lead prosecutor against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and is special counsel for the office of Gov. Bruce Rauner.