Outgoing U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan traveled to Georgetown on Tuesday to campaign for Republican Congressman Andy Barr, who’s facing a tough re-election challenge.
Ryan is the latest national political figure to stump in the race, which is considered to be a bellwether on President Donald Trump’s popularity as Democrats try to take control of the U.S. House and Republicans try to defend their majority.
During a speech at Georgetown’s Toyota Tsusho Corporation — the trading arm of the Japanese car manufacturer — Ryan and Barr tiptoed around Trump’s trade strategy. The president’s policies have created anxiety for some Kentucky businesses — like Toyota — that depend on international trade.
Barr said that he supports Trump’s trade policy, but he wants Congress to supervise the president’s use of tariffs on foreign industries.
“The general objectives of the administration are right on. We need to get fair, free trade, we need reciprocal trade,” Barr said. “We want to exercise our oversight to make sure that the strategy is actually working. And we don’t want a protracted period of time where we have uncertainty.”
Trump’s use of tariffs is a sensitive issue in Kentucky where industries like auto manufacturers, soybean farmers and bourbon distillers are wringing their hands over the possibility of an extended trade war.
Ryan said he “wasn’t a fan of tariffs and still am not,” but that he thinks the strategy is working.
“That got these people to the table. So it has succeeded in getting our allies to come back to the table and get new agreements with America that are preferential for us,” Ryan said.
Barr is seeking his fourth term representing the 6th Congressional district, which includes Lexington and central Kentucky and stretches to the foothills of Appalachia.
In 2016, Trump won the district by about 15 percentage points, but recent polls show Barr locked in a dead heat with Democratic challenger Amy McGrath, a retired fighter pilot.
The closeness of the race has been underscored by the national attention it has created — earlier this month Trump campaigned for Barr at an event in Richmond and former Vice President Joe Biden stumped for McGrath in Owingsville.
After the Georgetown event, Barr also weighed in on Trump’s recent suggestion he eliminate the country’s birthright citizenship policy by executive order.
“The Constitution can’t be changed by an executive order, but we do join the administration in their efforts to secure our border,” Barr said.