- - Thursday, August 15, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

While many political leaders in Washington focus on attacking one another over partisan comments, 2020 presidential candidates on all sides need to remain focused on implementing policies that help ordinary Americans. As President Trump huddled with CEOs of tech giants at the White House on Monday, to discuss trade policy and solutions to expedite the rollout of 5G technology, the priority should be to help the forgotten men and women of rural America. 

During my time in Congress representing Western Pennsylvania, one thing I prioritized was fighting for common sense solutions that helped ordinary Pennsylvanians living in the cities as well as rural parts of the state. In 2016, Hillary Clinton neglected to campaign in the rural parts of Pennsylvania, while Donald Trump campaigned in the more rural parts of Pennsylvania, which helped him win my home state. 

In 2004, President George W. Bush won my district by 60 percent and Pennsylvania is truly a purple state. Independent voters in rural Pennsylvania stood with Donald Trump in 2016, but many of his tariff policies have hurt rural Pennsylvanians the most. While Mr. Trump’s trade war hurts Pennsylvania’s farmers, the unintended consequences of President Trump’s executive orders, such as the blanket Huawei ban, are going to hit communities in rural Pennsylvania the hardest. 

The scope of Mr. Trump’s recently signed executive order to exclude providers such as Huawei from participating in building future 5G networks in the U.S. directly hurts America’s heartland. While Mr. Trump’s executive orders and trade policies hurt rural Pennsylvanians, it’s a unique opportunity for Joe Biden or whomever emerges as our 2020 Democratic nominee for president of the United States. 

One might think that improving America’s wireless networks is a tangible accomplishment for the administration to tout heading into an election year. However, the reality is that 30 percent of rural Americans have zero broadband access. A blanket ban on using Huawei equipment devastates U.S. carriers’ efforts to rollout 5G in a timely fashion and leaves us far behind other Western nations. The yawning Internet access gap has been decried by Democrats and Republicans. Crippling 5G access in America’s heartland will only exacerbate that inequality.



Kneecapping America’s wireless network expansion will have negative consequences that extend far beyond communities like Western Pennsylvania. The ripple effect of less competitive rural and small-town communities will mean a less competitive United States as a whole. While U.S. carriers may be financially compensated for swapping out foreign network equipment, the delays in rolling out the new technology will set America back for years. 

Hardworking Pennsylvanians know as well as anyone the negative impact China’s predatory trade policies have on American communities, but such an ill-thought-out ban is devastating for rural businesses that rely on Huawei equipment to give them access to the 5G network.  

China obviously wields insidious influence, politically and economically, around the world. But the administration must find surgical ways to deal with China that doesn’t hurt American farmers and those living in rural communities. If Mr. Trump’s blanket Huawei ban and trade policies continue to hurt rural Pennsylvanians, a moderate Democrat such as a Joe Biden type will win Pennsylvania in 2020.

To win the White House in 2020, the reality is that Democratic presidential candidates need to avoid the same lack of interest toward the Rust Belt that Hillary Clinton exhibited. For President Trump and the GOP, they should be wary that re-elections are earned, not given. To paraphrase one of the president’s favorite slogans, promises made to voters must be kept.

Lawmakers are right to try to counter China; America’s security and economic interests must be protected. But action taken toward foreign equipment providers such as Huawei and others must be surgical; the current blanket ban directly hurts my former constituents in rural Pennsylvania. We can protect U.S. national security while giving foreign equipment providers restricted access to the U.S. market, so millions of Americans have access to 5G/4G technology that is needed to maintain U.S. economic primacy and keep America prospering.

In 2020, Western Pennsylvanians will vote for their interests first rather than partisanship. They will vote for the candidate who improves their quality of life, having supported candidates of all stripes in the past. Hurting rural and small-town Americans to score political points in Washington won’t help anyone. 2020 presidential candidates need to ensure the forgotten men and women of rural Pennsylvania have access to the 5G network and are not forgotten anymore. 

• Ron Klink is a former U.S. representative from Pennsylvania.

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