Sen. John Thune: We want open trade, not trade wars

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," January 23, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right, interesting press conference here, where it started out with details outlining the president's upcoming trip to Davos tomorrow.

He will be the first president to attend this gathering of world economic bigwigs, if you will, since Bill Clinton. And part of the thinking was that this would be a chance to sort of show off what is going on in America with the tax cuts, the improving markets, et cetera.

And the indications seemed to be that the president would make it quick and be back by Friday. But the indications are as well that the administration is going to still hold fast to getting an immigration deal done in the less than three weeks they have now since the government was reopened, that the president will still be pushing for a wall, even though there's indications right now that Senator Chuck Schumer has withdrawn his support for funding for such a thing.

We will be raising that with Senator John Thune very, very shortly.

In the meantime, we have got Fox Business Network's Deirdre Bolton here talking about the things the president will be talking about in Davos, the gift that keeps giving, I guess, Deirdre, these tax cuts that have no less than a pretty well known Democrat in the financial community over at J.P. Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, offering $20 billion in investments, largely speared by those tax cuts.


This whole idea of the government having given corporate America the breaks and then these breaks going down and trickling down in a positive way towards workers does seem to be working.

So from banks to media companies, phone, retail, it is a pretty long list. You just brought up J.P. Morgan Chase. And I'm going to go over some of the details.

So you mentioned that $20 billion figure, which is certainly worth underlining. And part of this is going to be to open branches in different locations. So maybe not just where affluent people live. J.P. Morgan Chase wants to, at least according to their statement, make an effort to serve more people, expand mortgage lending and certainly boost pay for some of its employees.

So this is essentially a five-year investment, Neil. And the CEO, Jamie Dimon, asking his team some key questions, saying, due to these tax benefits, we can we do to accelerate growth, what can we do that is good for business, good for employees, good for wages and skills and jobs?

And as part of that press conference that were both just listening to, we heard Gary Cohn saying, we want to show, the president wants to show when he's traveling that America first, but not alone, and that America is open for business.

So, Disney adding on there, announcing it's going to be giving more than 125,000 employees a one-time bonus of $1,000. And the company is also going to be investing $50 million in a new education program. I think this is great. This goes to hourly employees. They can apply for this.

And Disney says there's 88,000 employees who are eligible for that education program. People who work in the parks, maybe at lower levels, they can apply for these programs and get support, perhaps to get a better job or a different job later down the line.

Verizon awarding employees other than top management shares of restricted stocks. So based on Verizon's current share price -- I just figured it out today -- would be about $400 million total. And the CEO saying employees will further share in the company's success around tax reform.

Wal-Mart, we remember, Neil, at the end of last year they already announced these plans to increase the hourly wage rate. So it goes to $11 an hour in the U.S. And they had already announced this one-time cash bonus for eligible associates of up to $1,000.

But the retail is expanding maternity and paternal leave benefits. Also creating a new benefit to assist associates with adoption expenses. So these decisions are going to be affecting employees for the better, we assume, in Florida, Pennsylvania, California and Texas.

So it seems as if a lot of these companies, Neil, in asking how they can give back to employees, they are giving these one-time cash bonuses, but then they're also seeming to buttress issues that are important to people, notably sticking out here education and child care -- Neil.

CAVUTO: All right. And they say that, if not for the tax cuts, they wouldn't be doing this.

BOLTON: Exactly.

CAVUTO: Which certainly has generously -- Deirdre, thank you very, very much.


CAVUTO: All right, market CEOs, they like that kind of stuff. Here's what they didn't like today. And it did come up in the press conference today, this idea that the administration is going to slap tariffs on largely Chinese solar panels that make their way to the United States and largely South Korean washers, that sort of thing, that also come into the United States.

Those surcharges, the taxes, those tariffs, if you will, you pay that. It would be anywhere from 30 to 50 percent. Now, some are envisioning this could lead to a trade war, something that generally escalates and doesn't sort of retract itself or that the president could risk backing away from that altogether. He's indicated that is not the case.

I wonder if my next guest is worried, the South Dakota Republican senator, very big deal in leadership, John Thune.

Senator, very good to have you.

SEN. JOHN THUNE, R-S.C.: Thanks, Neil.

CAVUTO: What do you make of this effort the president is targeting so far the Chinese and the South Koreans for different reasons, different areas? But some are fearing this could escalate. Are you?

THUNE: Well, I'm not -- I guess I'm not entirely comfortable any time, Neil, that you're talking about tariffs and retaliatory actions taken on trade.

I think the American gains when we continue to open markets. I understand it's complicated with China because there's so much dumping that they do. And there are remedies within our trade laws that allow us in some cases to impose tariffs on some of these products that they're guilty of dumping on our markets.

So I get sort of the industry-by-industry concerns that get raised. But I think, as a general matter, we want to have open trade. We want everybody in the -- we want to have the same access to the other markets around the world that they have to ours.

We're the most open market in the world. And I hope that our administration is looking at ways to expand and grow opportunities for American businesses and farmers and ranchers, and not get us into this tit- for-tat trade war with some of these countries, even China, who is oftentimes very guilty of the things that they're accused of.

CAVUTO: But they will probably respond, either or both of those countries.

THUNE: Right.

CAVUTO: And it could spread to other countries like Mexico and Canada, similarly concerned about the way we're approaching this.

Are you getting worried?

THUNE: Well, I'm concerned that the -- I frankly -- I think Canada just entered into TPP. Obviously, we were going to be a part of that agreement.


CAVUTO: You're talking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership.


THUNE: The Trans-Pacific Partnership, correct.

I wish we had been a part of that. Those 12 nations represent about 40 percent of the world's GDP. And if we're not in there, somebody else is going to be. And the administration has assured us that, if we're not going to be part of these multilateral trade agreements, that they're going to be negotiating bilateral trade agreements.

But, frankly, we're not seeing a lot of evidence of that. And, so, yes, I'm concerned about where the administration sounds they're headed on trade. We're very concerned about the idea of withdrawing from NAFTA. That would be a big mistake for American businesses.

CAVUTO: Meanwhile, Senator, I want to switch gears a little bit back to the press conference.

I got a sense from Sanders on the issue of whatever immigration pacts they're considering right now, that they're a long way from resolving this issue in the three weeks that they have to do so.

She referred to obviously the Flake-Graham-Durbin sort of middle ground on position -- they deem it middle ground -- is unacceptable. So, that's going to go nowhere.

Do you think that this could just blow up again in three weeks?

THUNE: I think it's -- if it does, what will happen is, Senator McConnell has basically agreed that he will put a bill on the floor, base bill, and then he will open up the amendment process, in which case we could produce a bill that gets 60 votes in the Senate that can't pass the House.

CAVUTO: Right.

THUNE: That's why I think it's really important that this bicameral, bipartisan group that is negotiating right now gets forward.

CAVUTO: By the way, what do you think of that 60-vote -- what do you think of that 60-vote issue? The president said make it a simple majority, explore the nuclear option.

Mitch McConnell doesn't like the idea. How about you?

THUNE: I think it's shortsighted.

I really think, in the long run, we ought to be able on some of these big, consequential issues to get enough Democrats to vote with us. Now, clearly, where the government shutdown was concerned, the Democrats obstructed. They obstructed on tax reform. They have obstructed on confirmations.

I'm hoping that attitude is going to change. And I think we will find out very soon in this immigration debate. But I think that the 60-vote threshold in the Senate is something that protects the rights of the minority. It's been used significantly and in a meaningful way by Republicans when we're in the minority.

And we're in the minority more often than we're in the majority. So, I think you ought to look long and hard before you start going to sort of an extreme measure like that.

But it is important, in my view, that, as much as we can, get started right away, jump-start these negotiations, and hopefully produce a consensus bill that can get 60 votes in the Senate, but also pass the House and get signed into law by the president.

CAVUTO: Something seems to be falling apart, though, Senator.

The reason why I mentioned is, Chuck Schumer has already revoked a deal to consider funding for that border wall, something that he had signed on to when I guess he met with the president, had offered. What do you make of that?

THUNE: Well, first off, it's hard to withdraw something that's been rejected three times.

I think the White House basically -- what Schumer offered them was an authorization. And an authorization is very different than an appropriation. An appropriation is actual funding. There were authorizations made in the immigration bill back in 2006 or 2007 that Senator Schumer actually voted for.

But those were never appropriated. So the funding was never put in place, for example, to build the wall. So the real issue here is whether or not money is going to be appropriated and whether or not the Democrats are willing to support that. And so the offer that he made was a symbolic one, but pretty meaningless in terms of addressing the issue.

CAVUTO: It sounds like there's still a lot of bad blood on both sides.

THUNE: Well, you know, I think -- I hope that changes. They should have learned a lesson.

I think this attempt to shut down the government really was in response to pressure they were getting from their base. But what they found out is there's a lot of Democrat senators who didn't want to go along with that.

And I think there's a broad consensus that we need to address DACA, that we need to do more on border security. And I'm hopeful that, notwithstanding where their leadership may be in the Senate, that there's a number of Senate Democrats who would be willing to work with Republicans on a consensus bill that can get a result, that actually can pass and get signed into law.

CAVUTO: All right, Senator Thune, thank you very much.

THUNE: Thanks, Neil.

CAVUTO: All right, let's go to Kevin Corke at the White House.

Among developments today, of course, the revelation that Jeff Sessions last week, the attorney general, had sat down and met with Robert Mueller to discuss some of questions that are coming up on the Russian connection with the election, et al.

Kevin what are we hearing?

KEVIN CORKE, FOX NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know what? I'm going to get to that in a second.

But if you will indulge me, my friend, I actually want to kind of follow up on what Senator Thune was talking about with Chuck Schumer.

Understand this. In Washington, it's not what you say. It's what you say at the time you say it, right? And, effectively, I think what White House officials will tell you private this is just a new fresh starting point for him in the negotiation between now and February 8.

Now, as you point out, taking the wall or funding for the wall, or as was frankly accurately pointed out, appropriation perhaps for a wall, which didn't happen, it's all part of the conversation. And that's an important distinction.

But I should also tell you this. We learned today, in listening to the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, she doesn't think they're that far apart on coming up with a deal between now and February 8.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think there are a couple of places where everyone agrees.

DACA is something both Republicans and Democrats, the House and the Senate, all want to find a solution to, a permanent solution to that. Border security, Democrats may not agree on the exact amount but they certainly agree that there is a need for that, and their willingness to do that.


CORKE: Meanwhile, as you point out, very interesting when you read stories about who has now been interviewed or spoken with the team for the special counsel.

As you point out, we did learn the attorney general has recently had a conversation. This is an interesting development, insomuch as the speculation around the Beltway now seems to be, Neil, that this could spell a pending end to this investigation.

When you start getting some of the major players like a Comey, like a Sessions, maybe working out an opportunity to speak with the president himself, that could spell the end of the investigation soon. Again, that's speculation.

But, by the way, in case you missed it, the president himself was asked about Mr. Sessions' opportunity to speak with a special counsel. And he said this, this afternoon.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I'm not at all concerned. Not at all.


TRUMP: No, I didn't, but I'm not at all concerned.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Did Christopher Wray threaten to resign?

TRUMP: No, he didn't at all.

QUESTION: He did not threaten?

TRUMP: He did not even a little bit. No. And he's going to do a good job.


CORKE: Not concerned at all, and nor is he of the belief that Christopher Wray asked to resign from his position or threaten to do as much.

Very interesting also conversation, very quickly, Neil, Gary Cohn here. I know you have had tons of opportunities to talk to him about growth in the economy, the unemployment rate.

I even asked him about work force participation rate. But the big story today was the idea that the U.S. is being more aggressive on trade, and particularly with South Korean appliances makers, Samsung and LG, Chinese solar panel makers in particular, today's Section 201 signing by the president, as an example of that.

And he was asked if -- ahead of Davos, if the America first policy, if you will, will somehow be viewed in a negative light by trading partners and other leaders around the globe.

Here's what he had to say about that.


COHN: America first is not America alone.

I said in my remarks, when we grow, the world grows. When the world grows, we grow. We're part of it. We're part of a world economy.

And the president believes that. He is going to talk on world leaders about making sure we all respect each other. We all abide by the laws.


CORKE: Here's the idea. They're going to be very forceful.

They're going to talk a great about reciprocity. If you're good to us, we will be good to you. This is a massive marketplace.

It's something we expect we will hear a great deal of conversation about during the trip to Davos.

I wish I were going. I imagine you are.

CAVUTO: No. There's a lot of snow.


CORKE: Yes, a lot of snow.

CAVUTO: Very good fondue, though, very good fondue. We will miss out, my friend.

CORKE: Indeed.

CAVUTO: Thank you very, very much, Kevin, at the White House.

CORKE: Thank you, Neil.

CAVUTO: Meanwhile, we have got Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen with us.

Senator, very good to see you. Thanks for taking the time.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, D-MD.: Thanks, Neil. Good to see you.

CAVUTO: What is your sense of this trade move first?

I have a lot to talk to you about, sir, if you will indulge me. The president citing China and South Korea, respectively, for dumping goods in this country, China in the case of solar panels, South Korea presumably in the case of washing machines, dyers, that sort of thing.

Some are fearing this could lead to a trade war or get worse. What about you?

VAN HOLLEN: So, look, I think we need to make sure we have fair trade, in terms of making sure we're not being take advantage of, our companies, by foreign dumping in the United States.

I think, in many areas, like on the currency manipulation, the president didn't follow through on his campaign promises on China.

With respect to the solar panel piece, I do have some concerns that it will actually result in a loss of a lot more American jobs. And here's why. You have a lot of American jobs installing these solar panels.

And when you dramatically increase the cost of those solar panels, that becomes less competitive and those jobs are lost. I know, in Maryland, we expect to see jobs lost because of the president's actions.

So, if we're weighing all these decisions in terms of American jobs, I have problems, at least with respect to that decision on solar panels.

CAVUTO: If I could switch gears on maybe hammering out some immigration accord, Senator, or DACA or both in the few weeks remaining, Republicans were kind of questioning how it is that Chuck Schumer revoked what appeared to be a deal to at least considering funding for a wall.

How do you feel about this?

VAN HOLLEN: So, let's replay the tape a little bit on all of this.

You remember, when the president invited the cameras into the White House, he talked about how he wanted a bill of love, and he told Republicans and Democrats to come up with a bipartisan bill.

People like Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin took him at his word. They went -- did that, came back to the White House. You know about that meeting that blew it all up and really triggered the government shutdown.

We in the Senate put together a bipartisan agreement to work -- move forward on the budget, try to get some opioid funding, try to deal with community health centers, and a commitment from Mitch McConnell to have a vote on a bipartisan DACA bill.

We will have to negotiate what goes in that bill. We have -- everyone is in favor of border security. There's -- we need border security. The issue is smart use of taxpayer dollars.

And you know many experts have said it's simply a waste of money to build a huge wall, one that the president said Mexico was going to pay for. So, border security, yes.

CAVUTO: But what if it's not a wall? He seems to have dialed that back a little bit, some areas where there wouldn't be a wall and others.

But what apparently prompted that reversal -- I wasn't there. I don't know, Senator. You probably know more than I. That there was no provision for that in this measure that was submitted to him. We will never know for sure. But is it your sense that we could revisit this whole potential shutdown talk in a few weeks?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I hope we don't have another shutdown talk.

I hope that Mitch McConnell lives up to the commitments he made to the American public, to Republicans senators, to Democratic senators, to move forward on these budget issues, so that we don't keep doing these short- term C.R.s that wreak havoc on our military and on other government agencies, and he follows through on the commitment to have a bipartisan DACA bill vote.

This is an issue that we have got to resolved.

CAVUTO: But bipartisan could be in the eye of the beholder. Right?

The fear seems to be that he will submit it, or come up with ideas, maybe amendments. But I guess what I'm asking you is, given the fact that the White House seems far apart on this, Democrats seem to be regrouping on this, that we could revisit all of this.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, here's what I know.

We had 57 senators committed to the Graham-Durbin bill that had funds for border security, including some for barriers, walls, whatever you want to call it, but not the whole thing.

We had 57 senators on that. So, we need to build on that, because we will need to get at least 60 votes here in the United States Senate. But at least there's a foundation of bipartisan agreement.

CAVUTO: The latest count on the tax cut thing -- and I know Democrats are unanimous in rejecting it -- is that Disney, let's see, J.P. Morgan Chase, among those companies now, both of them run by pretty prominent Democrats, not that that would change matters any, but that they're offering bonuses, incentives.

It's close to four million Americans now, apart from whatever tax relief that they could be looking at when they look at their paychecks, are getting it via their companies.

Some utility concerns are sharing with it their companies and 5 percent rebates on utility bills. Are you surprised and do you think Democrats, some, might regret rejecting this outright?

VAN HOLLEN: No, I'm not surprised.

These corporations got hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. And I hope people will remember what the president actually promised. He said this many times. Our Republican Senate colleagues held up charts on the floor of the Senate.

They didn't promise one-time bonuses. They promised $4,000-a-year increases in people's base pay, $4,000 pay increase -- over 10 years, that's $40,000.

We have seen none of that. And in many of these companies, the same day they make the announcements, like AT&T and Wal-Mart, the same day they made announcements, they actually cut their work force. In the case of Wal- Mart, they cut the Sam's Clubs.

CAVUTO: I don't believe they -- I don't believe, Senator, that they said $4,000 a year.

But I do believe right now that they -- you're quite right. They got a big old break. There's no denying it. Generous. But they're doing more than just sharing it with their shareholders.

I guess what I'm asking you is, this could create an economic boon. The IMF today said it's going to add up to 3 percent to worldwide growth. Real quickly, does that surprise you?

VAN HOLLEN: So, Neil, just to be clear, I will send you the tape where the president said $4,000-a-year pay raise going in.

And if you compare that to the about $88 billion in stock buybacks that simply go to stockholders -- by the way, a third of those stockholders are foreign stockholders. You remember when the president said to the Norwegian prime minister...

CAVUTO: But there are others benefiting, right, I think you would have to acknowledge, more than you thought, right?

VAN HOLLEN: I don't think I'm at all surprised that corporations that got a huge tax break are doing these one-time bonuses.

That is not the lift that was promised. It's not even close. And, as I said, a lot of them, unfortunately, are laying off employees the same day they make the public announcement.

So, look, I'm for a middle-class tax cut. We shouldn't have raised taxes on anybody in the middle class. In Maryland, we're going to have a lot of middle-class taxpayers have their taxes go up. That is bad for economic growth.

CAVUTO: We shall see. We shall see.

All right. OK, I will put you down as still a maybe on the whole thing.


CAVUTO: Chris Van Hollen, very good seeing you.

VAN HOLLEN: I'm a no.


CAVUTO: I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I'm kidding.

VAN HOLLEN: I know you are. Good to see you.

CAVUTO: All right, the Dow, by the way, did finish down today just a teeny bit. S&P and Nasdaq were up. They were at records.

That will do it here. Thank you very, very much for watching.

"The Five" is next.

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