WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans are maneuvering to stop President Donald Trump from levying harsh tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, arguing that the move runs counter to the core of their economic agenda and could even cause political problems heading into the 2018 midterm elections.
"We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan," AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement Monday. "The new tax reform law has boosted the economy, and we certainly don’t want to jeopardize those gains."
House Ways and Means Committee members were also circulating a letter criticizing the tariffs, while high-ranking Senate Republicans also voiced opposition. "My constituents are worried about the cost of their beer cans. It’s a concern," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "The price of cars. A tariff obviously is going to get passed on to the consumer eventually in the price of goods and that ought to be everybody’s concern."
Amid mounting Republican dismay over Trump’s protectionist path, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, predicted the president ultimately will back off plans for the new trade levies.
"I think he’s thinking it through. We’ll see," Hatch said Monday. Hatch blamed White House trade adviser Peter Navarro for encouraging Trump to impose the tariffs.
It’s unclear whether the GOP pushback will have any effect on Trump, who surprised fellow Republicans on Thursday when he announced tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. He has repeatedly defended the plans, and after the statement from Ryan’s office Monday, the president said in Oval Office remarks that he was "not backing down."
For all of the controversies Trump has faced, the tariffs decision marks one of the few times he has taken a step that runs directly counter to congressional Republicans’ legislative and economic goals. Many lawmakers have voiced concerns that the move will undermine the $1.5 trillion tax cut bill they passed in December.
They also said it could cause political problems ahead of this year’s midterms. Democrats hope to take back control of the House and Senate in November, while Republicans planned to run on an economic argument to defend their majorities.
But it is difficult to predict how far Republicans would go to stand up to Trump, who remains popular with core GOP voters.
The tariff decision has not been finalized, but that is expected to happen later this week or next.
Trump dismissed fears Monday that the trade moves could damage the economy.
"Our country on trade has been ripped off by virtually every country in the world, whether it’s friend or anybody — China, Russia, people we think are wonderful, the European Union," he said.