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During St. Louis County visit, Blunt touches on Trump’s tariff talk — and Greitens’ woes

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt is facing a tough challenge from Kander. But the closeness of the race isn't hugely surprising, given that statewide contests in Missouri are traditionally competitive.
File photo I Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt is sharply disagreeing with President Donald Trump’s bid to apply steep tariffs to steel and aluminum imports, a move that some major St. Louis companies are panning.

The Republican lawmaker also rejected the president’s suggestion that law enforcement officialstake guns away from people before engaging in due process.

After speaking at the Missouri Hospital Association Opioid Summit on Friday afternoon in Town and Country, Blunt told reporters that he didn’t agree with the president’s bid to place a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum. Already, companies like Anheuser-Busch and Boeing contend the move could considerably affect their bottom lines.

“We only import about 16 percent of our steel, and almost all of that comes from our allied friends,” Blunt said. “So I just don’t think it’s a good idea. I said that in a public meeting with the president that was televised about two weeks ago. I said ‘Look, Mr. President: You’re going to impact everything from bass boats to beer cans here.”

Blunt noted that both steel and aluminum is made in Missouri, but added “we buy a lot more of it than we make.”

“And there are a lot more people in the jobs that take steel and aluminum and make something out of it than there are jobs that make steel and aluminum,” Blunt said. “And I just don’t think it’s a good idea. The retaliation is almost always first at our greatest export, which is commodities and food products. And that hits us right where we live.

“I have been pretty outspoken in my view that this shouldn’t happen,” he added. “I do hope when the president comes up with final determination on this in the next few days, that we treat our NATO and defense-allied partners differently than we treat everybody else.”

Blunt added that Canada imports more steel into the United States than any other country.

Cautious on gun legislation, optimistic on opioids

Blunt also diverged from Trump’s comments made earlier this week on restricting firearms. During a meeting with congressional leaders, Trump suggested that people “take guns first, go through due process second.”

“I think the president’s idea that you can seize people’s guns and then later figure out the legal justification for it is not going to happen and should not happen,” he said.

Congress is mulling over restricting firearms after a school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida. Trump has said he wants to bolster background checks and raise the age to purchase a weapon to 21. He’s also backed arming teachers.

“I’m more than willing to look at things that would solve these problems,” Blunt said. “They have to be things, frankly, that can get 60 votes in the Senate and a majority in the House. I’m not very interested in having another debate like the debate on the DACA kids, who I think should be allowed to stay here and we should be able to find a way to do that.”

Blunt was bullish, however, that Congress would continue to act effectively to stem the tide of opioid abuse. In a recent op-ed, he’s pointed to $6 billion in the latest budget deal over the next two years to deal with the issue. He’s also said that Congress needs to support mental and behavioral health programs.

But he also said there needs to be a re-examination of how many pain pills get prescribed at a time to somebody.

“We can’t continue to prescribe 30 and 60 pills at a time,” he said. “One of the things that we can do here is, frankly, have a very short prescription — with the chronic pain exceptions you would have if a doctor truly has a patient that has to have pain medicine and has to have it a lot.

“And we might need more than four days of pain medicine and that might mean you have to go to the drug store one other time — and nobody particularly likes to do that,” he added. “But nobody has to have these things either sitting in their medicine cabinet or having taken more of them than you should have taken for your own personal health.”  

Blunt on Greitens

Blunt said he’s spoken to Gov. Eric Greitens once since he admitted to having an extramarital affair before he was governor. Greitens has been indicted for allegedly taking a partially nude photo of his then-mistress without her consent.

“I think it’s incredibly unfortunate for everyone involved,” Blunt said. “It looks like to me that the legislatureand law enforcement are doing what they need to do to look at this. I think the state will benefit when we reach some conclusion here.”

He added he hadn’t thought about how Greitens’ woes could affect other GOP candidates, especially since Republicans want to oust Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill later this year.

“I’m more concerned about the stress this puts on the state and the governor’s family and the legislature trying to go through this session with this additional issue,” Blunt said. “I certainly haven’t given any thought to any political consequences.”

Greitens sparred in the pastwith both Blunt and McCaskill over the quality of care in state veterans homes. The governor also developed a shaky relationship with some Republican state lawmakers sincetaking office last year.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.