Kentucky Sixth District Congressman Andy Barr is advising President Donald Trump to keep one playing card in his deck during high-stakes talks with North Korea: a robust sanctions bill he passed through the U.S. House of Representatives last year.
Should negotiations break down in Singapore, Barr says the president should warn leader Kim Jong Un that Congress stands ready to enact new, tougher economic penalties in the form of the Otto Warmbier North Korea Nuclear Sanctions Act. The 2017 law would punish foreign banks and financial entities that do business with the rogue regime.
Monday, the House Financial Services Subcommittee chairman said the bill’s strong bipartisan support – a solid 415-2 vote in the lower chamber – should send a clear message.
And if the North Korean leader is not serious about the president’s demand for "complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization," Barr believes the president should "point to my bill and say that the consequence of them not agreeing to that objective will be a much more serious reaction in terms of the economic pressure that we are prepared to impose on Pyongyang."
Barr added that United States UN ambassador Nikki Haley has told his office the sanctions bill has given her the leverage to bring Russia and China to the negotiating table.
The historic meeting between Trump and the North Korean leader is slated to start at 9 p.m. EST Monday.
A 'No' On Moderate Immigration Push
Taking questions after an event in Lexington, Congressman Barr urged his Republican colleagues against a legislative maneuver designed to force a vote on immigration, which has gained steam in recent weeks.
Moderate GOP lawmakers want to utilize a rare House procedural tactic known as a "discharge petition" to move the highly-charged political issue to the floor, bypassing the wishes of Republican party leaders. If successful, the House members could compel the majority to take up reforms that many Democrats have championed, ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.
Barr informed reporters he won’t be signing on.
"That simply turns our majority over to (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi," he answered. "That's not the way to actually get an immigration solution across the finish line to the president's desk. Fortunately... I don't think it's going to happen."
But as of Monday, petition supporters were only three signatures shy of reaching the tipping point, with one Democrat holdout. If half of the House agrees, the petition would mandate a vote on four bills addressing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
Yet Barr reported positive behind-the-scenes talks between hardliners and those focused on rescuing DACA.
"They're working toward a solution and we have a great opportunity," the representative said, sounding optimsitic a deal could be worked out before the midterms.
While Barr registered support for the Trump administration's "fair, free, and reciprocal trade" agenda, he's less enthusiastic about the steel and aluminum tariffs that have sparked escalating trade war rhetoric with close allies to the north and across the Atlantic.
"I have expressed concerns about the tariffs that have been put into place because of the dislocation and the unintended consequences it can have on Kentucky exports," Barr told WUKY, before voicing unease about the disruption Trump's tariffs are causing in the global supply chain for Toyota and auto manufacturing.
The three-term congressman also questioned the wisdom of directing fire at the nation's friendliest trading partners, many of whom left the recent G7 summit in Canada dismayed over the president's trade demands.
"It's not good to focus our efforts on allied countries with whom we have a trade surplus, Canada being a prime example of that," Barr said.
The statement runs counter to repeated claims by President Trump that the U.S. suffers from a trade deficit with its neighbor to the north.
House members, including Barr, return to Capitol Hill Tuesday.