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Sen. Moran Weighs In On Confirmation Hearing For Commerce Secretary

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Like a lot of Donald Trump's Cabinet picks, his choice to run the Commerce Department is a very wealthy man. Seventy-nine-year-old billionaire Wilbur Ross took his turn on Capitol Hill yesterday for his confirmation hearing. Ross has said he wants to make renegotiating NAFTA a top priority if he is confirmed. And to talk about that hearing, we're joined in the studio by one member who was there. It's Senator Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas.

Senator, good morning.

JERRY MORAN: Good morning to you, David.

GREENE: So Donald Trump has talked a lot about needing to tear up bad trade deals. Wilbur Ross has said he agrees with that idea. Do you?

MORAN: Well, I certainly would preface that by saying that exports, trade are important to our country, especially important to a state like mine of Kansas where agriculture commodities are sold and consumed around the globe. We manufacture lots of airplanes in our state. They're sold around the globe. So...

GREENE: Limiting trade could really hurt your state.

MORAN: Absolutely. I'm a supporter of the opportunity for American businesses to sell their products, the agriculture commodities, around the globe. And it matters in jobs in my state and in the nation. Having said that, it seems to me that there is nothing wrong with a re-look at trade agreements that are designed to last - or I don't know whether they're designed, in reality, they last a lifetime.

GREENE: Like NAFTA, you would include that...

MORAN: Like NAFTA, and...

GREENE: So you say re-look, though. And Donald Trump has used much more aggressive language. Are you on the same page?

MORAN: Well, I'm - what Wilbur Ross said yesterday makes sense to me is that things change. And here's the point. In fact, he and I had this conversation because it's been my view that when we negotiate a trade agreement, generally, that's about lowering tariffs. Our ability to get products into another country's markets are harmed by the fact they have higher tariffs, taxes, keeping those products less competitive. When they import into the United States, we don't have that circumstance, so it's an unlevel playing field. And so the trade agreements that we see negotiated, generally, are ones that try to level the playing field and have the tariffs be identical or similar.

What we talked about yesterday is that that's a fine thing to do, what Mr. Ross and I's conversation was about - that's a good thing to do. But that's not the end of it. What happens in too many instances is other countries find other ways, non-tariff barriers, to keep our commodities and products out. And that's what his point is. So let's go back when we see that happen - currency valuations, opposition to GMOs coming...

GREENE: Make it more comprehensive, you're saying. You're worried that too much of a focus on tariffs could - might not be...

MORAN: So we do high-fives and congratulatory pats on the back every time we negotiate a trade agreement.

GREENE: (Laughter) Do you actually do that in the Senate?

MORAN: I'm talking figuratively.

GREENE: (Laughter) OK.

MORAN: But I think that happens. We celebrate a trade agreement, believing that it has solved our problems.

GREENE: Right.

MORAN: And that's a start. But the point that I would make - and that was confirmed in the conversation I had with Mr. Ross - is but then they do other things. So let's go back in and reconsider the changes in circumstances or the actions of another country. Even though the tariffs may be similar, they've done other things that harm our ability to get our products into their country.

GREENE: Let me just ask you, the conservative economist Stephen Moore has said that Republicans have to come to grips right now with the fact that the Republican Party is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan. It's now a populist, working-class party led by Donald Trump, talking about things like creating jobs by being more protectionist. How does that sit with you? Do you feel like you're in a party that you're less familiar with?

MORAN: Well, I'm certainly a fan of Governor - President Reagan. And he has a tremendous influence on elected officials even today. But I recognize that our country's economy, and particularly people out in the hinterlands, have had the sense, in reality, that they've been forgotten. And so there's nothing wrong - in fact, it's a great thing that we're now putting front and center working people, men and women across the country. And perhaps that could be called populist, but it's really what this country is about, is making certain that the elected officials represent the everyday person across the nation.

So I'm not at all offended by that. And I'm glad to see the focus, particularly on jobs and economic growth. And we talk about economic growth, and what that really means to me is having a job, getting a better job, having a higher-paying job, our kids, when they graduate from school, they can get a job and pay off their student loans.

GREENE: OK. That's Republican Senator Jerry Moran of the state of Kansas.

Thanks so much for joining us, Senator.

MORAN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.