Senate GOP sounds alarm over Trump's floated auto tariffs
© Greg Nash

Republican senators are scrambling to squash President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE's floated tariffs on imported vehicles amid a growing fight between Congress and the White House on trade.

Several GOP senators — including Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMeet Washington's most ineffective senator: Joe Manchin Lobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage MORE (Utah), the chairman of the Finance Committee — warned on Thursday that the administration's proposed plan would backfire by negatively impacting American families.

Hatch, in a statement, called Trump's decision to investigate potential tariffs "deeply misguided."  

"Instead of taking from the pocketbooks of hardworking Americans, I urge the administration to remain focused on addressing China’s trade practices and to work constructively with our trading partners," he said. 

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GOP Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyMeet Washington's most ineffective senator: Joe Manchin Black women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal MORE (Pa.), a consistent Trump ally, added that the tariffs are a "bad idea" and that "doing it under the false pretense of national security--Section 232--is an even worse idea, as it invites retaliation and weakens our credibility on actual trade disputes." 

The backlash from congressional Republicans comes after Trump, on Wednesday, asked the Commerce Department to investigate whether he could levy upward of 25 percent tariffs on imported automobiles under Section 232 of trade law.

Section 232 investigations are used to determine the impact of imports on national security. 

Trump, who has repeatedly broken with his party on trade issues, found himself facing immediate backlash from high-profile members of his party earlier this year after he announced that he would place tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. 

Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossCensus memo notes 'unprecedented' Trump administration meddling: report Holding defiant Trump witnesses to account, Jan. 6 committee carries out Congress's constitutional role Bannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ MORE touted the benefits of the steel and aluminum tariffs on Thursday, arguing that new auto tariffs could boost U.S. industries similarly. 

“So that was a very good activity [steel and aluminum tariffs] for us and we are looking forward to researching whether cars should be handled in a similar fashion,” Ross said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
 
Republican senators, however, are rushing to make it clear that they don't believe auto tariffs would be a "very good activity." 
 
Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerRepublicans, ideology, and demise of the state and local tax deduction Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force MORE (R-Tenn.) said the floated tariffs appear "to be either an attempt to affect domestic politics ahead of the election or for some other transactional purpose regarding ongoing trade discussions." 
 
“I am very concerned about the president abusing the authorities granted to him in Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962," he added. "This is a dangerous course and should be abandoned immediately.”
 
The blowback from the potential auto tariffs comes less than a day after Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinSuspect in Khashoggi murder arrested The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to tackle omicron risks with new travel rules Mnuchin and McConnell discuss debt limit during brief meeting MORE met with a group of GOP senators. The group met late Wednesday evening amid deep skepticism over ongoing negotiations with China about telecommunications giant ZTE

The meeting, according to GOP senators, was a chance for the administration to outline its thinking on the issue.

But GOP senators signaled after the closed-door meeting — which started in GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynAll hostages free, safe after hours-long standoff at Texas synagogue: governor McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster  MORE's (Texas) office before transferring to a secure room in the basement — that legislative action was still on the table. 

"I think they would prefer us not to act on it, but I think Congress is going to do what it needs to do," Rubio said.

Cornyn added that a bill that includes language restricting the the ability of the Commerce Department to lift penalties against ZTE if they aren't following the law will be in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual policy bill.

"It's been adopted in the NDAA and it will remain as part of the base bill," he said. "I expect it to be part of the NDAA." 

Trump said on Tuesday that he has not reached a deal with Beijing to help save ZTE, but added that he may ask for a fine of roughly $1.3 billion, new management for the telecom giant and for China to buy more American products.

Vicki Needham contributed reporting.