WASHINGTON (AP) — In a remarkably public confrontation, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican allies of President Donald Trump pleaded with him Monday to back away from his threatened international tariffs, which they fear could spark a dangerous trade war. Trump retorted: “We’re not backing down.”
The president said U.S. neighbors Canada and Mexico would not be spared from his plans for special import taxes on steel and aluminum, but he held out the possibility of later exempting the longstanding friends if they agree to better terms for the U.S. in talks aimed at revising the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“We’ve had a very bad deal with Mexico; we’ve had a very bad deal with Canada. It’s called NAFTA,” he declared.
Trump spoke shortly after a spokeswoman for Ryan, a Trump ally, said the GOP leader was “extremely worried” that the proposed tariffs would set off a trade war and urged the White House “to not advance with this plan.”
Likewise, Republican leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee circulated a letter opposing Trump’s plan, and GOP congressional leaders suggested they may attempt to prevent the tariffs if the president moves forward.
Trump’s pledge to implement tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports has roiled financial markets, angered foreign allies and created unusual alliances for a president who blasted unfavorable trade deals during his 2016 campaign. Union leaders and Democratic lawmakers from Rust Belt states have praised the planned tariffs, joining with advocates within the administration including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro.
But the president has been opposed internally by Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, who warned against penalizing U.S. allies and undercutting the economic benefits of the president’s sweeping tax overhaul.
Likewise, the statement from Ryan’s office said, “The new tax reform law has boosted the economy, and we certainly don’t want to jeopardize those gains.”
Asked about that public rebuke, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Look, we have a great relationship with Speaker Ryan. We’re going to continue to have one, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.”
Canada is the United States’ No. 1 foreign supplier of both steel and aluminum. Mexico is the No. 4 supplier of steel and No. 7 for aluminum.
The tariffs will be made official in the next two weeks, White House officials said.
“Twenty-five percent on steel, and the 10 percent on aluminum, no country exclusions — firm line in the sand,” said Navarro, speaking on “Fox and Friends.”
Republican critics on Capitol Hill and within the administration argue that industries and their workers that rely on steel and aluminum for their products will suffer. The cost of new appliances, cars and buildings will rise for Americans if the president follows through, they warn, and other nations could retaliate.
Two dozen conservative groups, including the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and the National Taxpayers Union, urged Trump to reconsider, writing in a letter that the tariffs would be “a tax on the middle class with everything from cars to baseball bats to even beer.”
The Trade Partnership, a consulting firm, said the tariffs would increase U.S. employment in the steel and aluminum sector by about 33,000 jobs but would cost 179,000 jobs in the rest of the economy.
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Mexico's Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal speaks during a press conference regarding the seventh round of NAFTA renegotiations in Mexico City, Monday, March 5, 2018. (AP Photo / Marco Ugarte)
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with steel and aluminum executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Thursday, March 1, 2018, in Washington. Trump's announcement that he will impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum has upended political alliances on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)