Not fake news: Trump's tariffs spur bipartisan push to protect newspaper industry
WASHINGTON – On one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Donald Trump wages a war on the press, with an almost daily outburst of insults and invectives hurled at journalists who, in his words, are “downright dishonest,” purveyors of “fake news” and the “enemy of the American people.”
But just a little more than a mile away, on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a bipartisan battle is under way to safeguard the nation’s struggling newspaper industry.
Nearly six dozen Congress members – 39 in the House, 32 in the Senate – have signed onto legislation that aims to temporarily suspend, if not halt altogether, preliminary import tariffs that the Trump administration recently placed on Canadian newsprint.
“This is much more than a mere financial setback for one industry,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “For many of our small town and rural newspapers, these tariffs, if finalized, would harm the dissemination of information about our communities, our government and the world around us.”
The Commerce Department levied the initial tariffs in January and then imposed a second round in March after finding that some imports of Canadian uncoated groundwood paper used in newsprint were being sold at below-market rates in the United States.
The Trump administration imposed a second round of tariffs in March after finding that some imports of Canadian material used in newsprint were being sold at below-market rates in the United States.
The Trump administration imposed a second round of tariffs in March after finding that some imports of Canadian material used in newsprint were being sold at below-market rates in the United States. (Photo: Natacha Pisarenko, AP)
The tariffs were put in place at the request of North Pacific Paper Co., which is based in Washington state and owned by a New York-based hedge fund. The duties are necessary to level the playing field for U.S. companies, the administration said.
Newspaper publishers, however, have blamed the tariffs for recent job losses and for exacerbating the woes of an industry that is already struggling financially as more readers choose to get their news online instead of via the printed word.
“No one wins if these tariffs remain,” said David Chavern, president and chief executive officer of the News Media Alliance, a newspaper trade group.
In April, the Tampa Bay Times in Florida announced that it would cut 50 jobs because of the tariffs, and newspapers in Mississippi, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma and Virginia have since scaled back the number of days they will offer print editions.
The industry got a small reprieve earlier this month when the Commerce Department announced that it would cap the tariffs at 16.88 percent, down from as high as 22.16 percent. But publishers and their supporters in Congress say that lowering the tariffs isn’t enough to stop the damage they are causing.
“Although this is a step in the right direction, the reduced rates only lessen the pace at which the tariffs are harming the industry,” Chavern said.
The duties should never have been levied and lowering them is “nothing more than an empty gesture,” said Sen. Doug Jones, an Alabama Democrat who is a cosponsor of the Senate legislation to suspend the tariffs.
“Even at this level these tariffs still have the power to put American newspapers out of business and will disproportionately hurt the smaller, rural communities that rely on their local papers,” Jones said.
A bill by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would temporarily suspend the newsprint tariffs and require the Commerce Department to study the health of the local newspaper business.
A bill by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would temporarily suspend the newsprint tariffs and require the Commerce Department to study the health of the local newspaper business. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)
Collins, who was one of the first lawmakers to sound the alarm about the tariffs’ effects on the publishing industry, filed the Senate bill to put the tariffs on hold back in May. She believes the legislation is still needed and will continue to pursue its passage regardless of last week’s decision to cap the duties, said her spokeswoman, Annie Clark.
“Sen. Collins supports strong trade remedy laws that protect American jobs and industries,” Clark said. “However, in this particular case, she believes the tariffs are harming the very U.S. industry they are supposed to protect.”
Collins’ bill, called the PRINT Act, would temporarily suspend the tariffs and require the Commerce Department to undertake a study of the economic well-being and health of the newsprint industry and the local newspaper business.
The study’s findings and recommendations would have to be submitted to the president and Congress within 90 days. The tariffs would be suspended until the president certifies that he has received the report and has concluded that reinstating them is in the U.S.’s economic interests.
Besides Collins, the legislation has 31 cosponsors, include 17 Republicans, 13 Democrats and independent Angus King of Maine.
An identical House bill filed in June by Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., has the backing of 30 other Republicans and eight Democrats.
Asked to respond to the bipartisan effort to halt the tariffs, a spokesperson for the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration said Friday the agency conducted the proceedings in accordance with Tariff Act of 1930, as enacted by Congress.
Meanwhile, 19 Congress members – 13 Republicans, five Democrats and independent King – argued for removing the tariffs during a hearing in July before the U.S. International Trade Commission. The commission, an independent federal agency, has the final say over whether the duties remain in place.
“Local papers offer a unique and irreplaceable public service in rural areas, such as my home district in East Tennessee,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn.
“Local papers offer a unique and irreplaceable public service in rural areas, such as my home district in East Tennessee,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)
“Local papers offer a unique and irreplaceable public service in rural areas, such as my home district in East Tennessee,” testified Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who stressed that the Volunteer State alone is home to 831 printing and publishing businesses that employ nearly 19,000 people.
“These businesses remain an integral part of our regional economy, serving as an important employer that provides workers with good-paying jobs as well as a steady stream of local revenue,” Roe said.
Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich., warned the tariffs “will do tremendous damage to community newspapers in the small towns in the heartland of the country.”
“In these communities,” he said, “there are no big city papers to bring residents their community news. There is no alternative for coverage of high school sports, the township council meetings or the special tributes for graduations and anniversaries.”
The trade commission could change the tariffs or kill them altogether. It is expected to vote on the case later this month.