Congressional Republicans’ hopes that President Trump would back down from his threat to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports were dashed Thursday when the President signed an executive order implementing the tariffs and suggested more global trade upheaval in the months to come.
“I’ll have a right to go up or down depending on the country,” he said. “We’re going to be very flexible. We’re going to see who is treating us fairly.”
In response, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) sail Thursday that he will soon draft a bill to block the tariffs from taking effect, calling Trump’s move “a marriage of two lethal poisons to economic growth – protectionism and uncertainty.”
“Trade wars are not won, they are only lost,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Undeterred by the resignation of his senior economics adviser and pleas from more than 100 Republican lawmakers not to go through with the tariffs, Trump signed into law tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. Canada and Mexico are exempt, and the White House has invited other nations to bargain for their own carveouts. The prices of a host of products made from steel and aluminum are expected to rise, and several countries have already threatened to impose their own tariffs on U.S. goods in retaliation.
Since Trump suggested the tariffs earlier this week, opining that “trade wars aren’t so bad,” Republicans on Capitol Hill have been trying frantically but unsuccessfully to talk him out of it.
“I’ve been trying to persuade him and he’s been very good to listen,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) lamented Thursday. “He’s had me down there twice to listen very carefully. I just haven’t persuaded him yet.”
Several Republicans, including Flake, have openly called the President’s views on trade misinformed and misguided. Others have said Congress needs to claw back some of the constitutional authority on trade that they have willingly handed over to the executive branch over the years. But there are few signs on Capitol Hill of the political will to pass a bill to rein in Trump and avert a trade war.
“I seriously question whether you’ll have enough Republican senators who want to cross the President in this way,” Flake admitted to reporters on Tuesday.
Prospects in the House for a bill to counter Trump are dim as well. House Speaker Paul Ryan released a statement following the tariff announcement that included no mention of any legislative effort or remedy.
“I disagree with this action and fear its unintended consequences,” Ryan said. “We will continue to urge the administration to narrow this policy so that it is focused only on those countries and practices that violate trade law.”