For months, congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser have been trying to convince the president that imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports is a bad idea.
But on Thursday, Trump made it clear that he doesn’t care what his party thinks. He announced his plans to implement a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports, in a move that highlights one of the key policy divides between Trump and his party.
“We’ve advised him against it, but he’s convinced that it’s the right thing to do,” Sen. John Thune (R-SD), who is the third-ranking Senate Republican, told reporters.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who has been known to have a good relationship with the president, said he would continue to “encourage” the president away from the proposal.
Congressional Republicans went through a kitchen sink of concerns about Trump’s trade proposal. Critics say angering US trading partners will lead to retaliatory countermeasures, which could cost American job and raise prices for American businesses that buy steel and aluminum.
Thune and Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts said they were worried about the agricultural industry, which could be targeted in a trade war. “I’m not very happy,” Roberts said.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said the aluminum tariffs could impact beer sales in the state.
Even one of Trump’s most consistent defenders, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, tweeted against the proposal — although, notably, he put the onus on the Commerce Department, not Trump.
The Commerce Department's recommendation to impose tariffs ignores history--and it ignores the reality that U.S. manufacturing will ultimately be the loser with these protectionist policies— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) March 1, 2018
“Kooky 18th century protectionism will jack up prices on American families — and will prompt retaliation from other countries ... if the President goes through with this, it will kill American jobs — that’s what every trade war ultimately does,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) told Politico’s Burgess Everett. “So much losing.”
“You’d expect a policy this bad from a leftist administration, not from a supposedly Republican one,” Sasse continued.
Democrats have been calling for Trump to take action on steel tariffs
Meanwhile, Democrats have welcomed the idea.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had actually urged Trump to implement the steel tariffs back in October, calling the president a “paper tiger” on the issue for delaying the announcement.
Trump signed an executive order to investigate the trade policies around steel and aluminum in April 2017, a directive that sparked an internal struggle within the Trump administration, pitting free trade advocates, like chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, against trade hawks like White House adviser Peter Navarro.
The trade hawks ultimately won, and Trump followed through on trade policies he promised during the campaign.
The decision has been lauded by Democratic Sens. Bob Casey (PA) and Sherrod Brown (OH), who say the tariffs would protect American metal jobs.
“This welcome action is long overdue for shuttered steel plants across Ohio and steelworkers who live in fear that their jobs will be the next victims of Chinese cheating,” Brown said. He has invited Trump to tour Ohio’s steel manufacturers.
Trump’s protectionist views on trade agreements are among his most divisive positions for conservatives in Congress, who have traditionally espoused a free trade agenda. Even so, the unexpected nature of Trump’s announcements has become par for the course for many Republicans.
“There is no standard operating practice with this administration,” Thune said Thursday. “Every day is a new adventure for us.”