McConnell Says GOP Senators Are Worried About Trump Tariff Plan

03/06/18 05:48 PM EST
By Siobhan Hughes and William Mauldin 

WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that Republicans in the chamber were worried that the White House's planned tariffs on steel and aluminum could spiral into a trade war, echoing views expressed this week by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

"There is a lot of concern among Republican senators that this could metastasize into a larger trade war," Mr. McConnell (R., Ky.) said. "Many of our members are discussing with the administration just how broad and how sweeping this might be."

The comments were the majority leader's first remarks on the issue since President Donald Trump last week said he planned to impose the tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum. The announcement prompted worries among the congressional wing of the party that the move could provoke retaliation and hurt businesses that use steel and aluminum.

Mr. Ryan, speaking with reporters earlier in the day, called for a more targeted approach, a view shared by several lawmakers Tuesday.

"There is clearly abuse occurring," the House speaker said. "Clearly, there is overcapacity dumping in transshipping of steel and aluminum by some countries, particularly China, but I think the smarter way to go is to make it more surgical or more targeted."

Mr. Ryan detailed his preferred approach one day after the House had returned from a weekend break. Many House Republicans on Monday night called for a narrower approach to tariffs, with some saying tariffs should apply to countries that abuse the system and others saying the U.S. should impose tariffs only on narrow classes of metals, such as finished products.

Mr. Trump Tuesday defended the planned tariffs.

"If a country doesn't have steel, it doesn't have a country," Mr. Trump said at a news conference alongside Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. "This is more than just pure economics. This is about defense. This is about the country itself."

A number of Republicans have said they are considering what sort of legislative options might be available to Congress should Mr. Trump refuse to back down. Congressional Republicans haven't ruled out potential legislative action aimed at blocking metals tariffs, according to a Republican familiar with the matter.

Several GOP senators said Tuesday that Mr. Trump's planned tariffs show Congress should take back some authority over trade.

"Over the years Congress has ceded way too much authority to the executive branch in a variety of [areas], but few more so than in the trade space, where presidents have an awful lot of unilateral authority granted to them by Congress," Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said in an interview. "More of that should be in the hands of Congress. We are in the process of exploring how one might achieve that."

Mr. Toomey is one of the Senate's biggest backers of free trade, even though he represents a manufacturing-intensive state where many voters support trade protection.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) said Republican senators had repeatedly warned Mr. Trump against imposing global tariffs.

"We should take back some of these constitutional powers that Congress has willingly given away to all presidents," Mr. Johnson said. "There's been an awful lot of advice -- this president doesn't seem to be taking it."

The tariff move would boost the cost of metals for a host of U.S. industries, such as automobiles and construction equipment, that use steel and aluminum. That worries Republican lawmakers who are supportive of the broader business community and wary of taxes and tariffs.

Other Republican lawmakers are worried that agricultural exports will be blocked as other countries engage in a tit-for-tat. That, in turn, could hurt the party in the November elections, they say.

"We will lose a lot of votes out in farm country," said Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.). "It's not a good thing."

--Greg Ip contributed to this article.

Write to Siobhan Hughes at and William Mauldin at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 06, 2018 17:48 ET (22:48 GMT)

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