As President Donald Trump presses forward with his plan to levy sharp tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, the president has little to no support among congressional Republicans, and some are strategizing how to block or undo the president’s new proclamation.
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Rather than impose the tariffs across the board, House Speaker Paul Ryan is encouraging the president “to be surgical and specific and go after those specific unfair trade practices.”
“I’m just not a fan of broad-based, across the board tariffs, because I think you’ll have a lot of unintended consequences. You’ll have a lot of collateral damage, not just consumers but businesses,” Ryan said during a town hall meeting Thursday at Home Depot in Atlanta. “So my preference and my hope is, that at the end of the day, we can make this more targeted and surgical, so that we can focus on a legitimate problem – dumping and unfair trade practices, which are taking jobs, without having this kind of collateral damage.”
Congressional Republicans expressed widespread concern the move could disrupt the U.S. economy, with countless Republicans urging the president to reconsider his approach by creating exceptions for U.S. allies and trading partners, as he has done, for the time being, for Canada and Mexico.
“President Trump’s decision to impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports will not protect America,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., stated following the president’s announcement.
“We’re on the verge of a painful and stupid trade war, and that’s bad,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, said.
Rep. Peter Roskam, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, cited “a lot of caution” from Republicans “about the direction that this debate could go.”
“We should not go the route that the administration is proposing on tariffs,” Roskam, R-Ill., told ABC News. “Remember tariffs are taxes and they’re taxes on American consumers. We want tariffs low and we want obviously make sure that we have opportunities to sell our products abroad. And there’s ways to do that, and I think there’s ways to appropriately negotiate that.”
In a letter to the president, more than 100 House Republicans expressed concerns that “broad tariffs could harm” America’s workers, manufacturers, and consumers.
“Because tariffs are taxes that make U.S. businesses less competitive and U.S. consumers poorer, any tariffs that are imposed should be designed to address specific distortions caused by unfair trade practices in a targeted way while minimizing negative consequences on American businesses and consumers,” the lawmakers wrote.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch said he twice spoke to the president to lobby for changes. After the president moved forward with a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, Hatch said he was disappointed.
“Simply put: This is a tax hike on American manufacturers, workers and consumers,” Hatch, R-Utah, said. “Slapping aluminum and steel imports with tariffs of this magnitude is misguided.”
Several other GOP senators, led by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, also wrote a separate letter to the president warning the tariffs “risks alienating key international partners that contribute to our ability to defend our nation and maintain international stability.”
“Maintaining relationships with allies and partners is vital to international stability and the national security of the United States,” the senators noted. “Our military and intelligence communities benefit from these alliances and partnerships, and in today’s strategic environment it is of utmost importance that we continue to foster constructive relationships with international partners that share our nation’s concerns and interests with emphasis on addressing the most critical challenges facing the U.S. and global steel industry.”
Shortly after the announcement, GOP Sen. Jeff Flake signaled he will introduce legislation to nullify the tariffs after the White House announcement, though it’s unclear if he could build a veto-proof bipartisan supermajority to defy the president.
“These so-called ‘flexible tariffs’ are a marriage of two lethal poisons to economic growth – protectionism and uncertainty,” Flake, R-Arizona, said. “Trade wars are not won, they are only lost. Congress cannot be complicit as the administration courts economic disaster. I will immediately draft and introduce legislation to nullify these tariffs, and I urge my colleagues to pass it before this exercise in protectionism inflicts any more damage on the economy.”
While the president does not have any vocal supporters within his own party, a handful of Democrats, Sens. Bob Casey, Sherrod Brown and Joe Manchin, have applauded the move.
“It’s past time to defend our interests, our security and our workers in the global economy and that is exactly what the President is proposing with these tariffs,” Manchin, D-W. Va., stated.
“By standing up for steel jobs today, we’re also protecting American jobs up the supply chain from becoming the next victims of Chinese cheating,” Brown, D-Ohio, said.
North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, urged the administration to shift course, expressing a preference for future bilateral trading deals.
“I’m probably more of one that if tariffs have to be implemented or used as a tool, look at it on a more tactical basis with finished goods,” Meadows told ABC News. “Really it’s more of trying to make sure that any of our manufacturers or [agriculture] communities are not adversely impacted.”
Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker cautioned that if the tariffs go into place, “it will not only cause major disruption in the market and drive prices up, it will likely cause layoffs and plant closures with jobs and operations shifting to other countries.”
“Unfortunately, the practical application here of the tariff on steel and aluminum would lead to jobs being lost in Wisconsin and moved – not to other states – but to other countries,” Walker said.
The timing and substance of the proposal, first revealed by the president last week, caught most Republicans by surprise.
“The surprises of these ideas just is what gives a period of unsettled times for Congress,” Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., said. “At this point, I wanna see some details.”
“Usually we have more time to prep and think it through and get the policy lined up,” Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., agreed. “How you implement it that’s the tricky one so we have to fine tune it a little bit.”