Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday brought his boss's tough-on-trade theme to Kentucky bourbon country, which has prospered from surging whiskey exports and is nervous about threats of a trade war breaking out.
Speaking at a rally to promote the Republican tax overhaul, Pence said that President Donald Trump's administration is cracking down on what it sees as unfair trade practices. Pence defended Trump's pledge to implement tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports.
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"We're fighting for trade deals that are fair and reciprocal and put America first," Pence said in a speech in Versailles, Kentucky, which is near several bourbon distilleries.
Afterward, Kentucky's Republican governor took a wait-and-see approach to Trump's tariff talk.
"We don't have any definite decision that has been made," Gov. Matt Bevin told reporters. "And the president does this. He likes to create dialogue, get people to talk."
The Kentucky Distillers' Association said this week that it's premature to speculate on the potential impact to the state's renowned bourbon industry. But the group said that bourbon makers have prospered from exports.
Overseas, European officials have signaled that the European Union could respond to any action from Trump by taxing American goods, including bourbon.
The distillers group said U.S. and EU spirits exporters have jointly benefited from duty-free access to each other's markets for more than two decades.
"Any efforts to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. spirits exports to the EU will jeopardize this long-standing partnership, harm consumers through prices and more limited product availability and significantly threaten the distilling renaissance that is creating industry jobs and generating billions in capital investment," the distillers group said in a statement earlier this week.
Meanwhile, Pence trumpeted the Republican tax cuts in a campaign-style speech to about 700 cheering supporters. Those tax cuts are emerging as a key issue in this year's midterm elections as Republican's try to keep their congressional majorities.
Most Americans will save money on their tax bills in coming years, with wealthier taxpayers saving the most, but Pence focused on the benefits for the working class, saying millions of people have received pay raises or bonuses that he attributed to tax cuts on businesses.
"After eight years of wages that just seemed to be stuck in neutral, Americans are seeing their paychecks rise today faster than any point in more than 10 years," Pence said.
Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Ben Self had a different view, saying in a statement: "If the tax plan was actually helping people, they wouldn't have to spend so much money on selling it to the American people."
Pence's speech came in a congressional district where the Republican incumbent, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, is facing a tough re-election campaign. Pence referred to Barr as a friend of the president's.