Tariff fight tests Trump, GOP

Tariff fight tests Trump, GOP
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice Department preparing for Mueller report as soon as next week: reports Smollett lawyers declare 'Empire' star innocent Pelosi asks members to support resolution against emergency declaration MORE's decision to slap steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports is fraying his relationship with congressional Republicans.

GOP lawmakers had largely rallied behind the unconventional president, even though he does not always share in their ideology on issues like trade.

But Trump’s tariff announcement — which came despite frantic pleas from Republicans — dealt a stinging blow to many free trade Republicans and even some of the president's own allies on Capitol Hill.

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Some members are now contemplating legislative steps to block the president’s move.

“I think there’s a good chance that we will nullify them, at least if I have my way. ... I generally support the president on just about everything but I think he’s been misled,” Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOrrin Hatch Foundation seeking million in taxpayer money to fund new center in his honor Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Utah Senate votes to scale back Medicaid expansion | Virginia abortion bill reignites debate | Grassley invites drug execs to testify | Conservative groups push back on e-cig crackdown MORE (R-Utah), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters. “I’m disappointed because we just passed a tax bill and this kind of flies in the face of that.”

GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (Ariz.), a frequent Trump critic who is retiring after 2018, is planning to introduce legislation to nullify the tariffs, saying Congress “cannot be complicit as the administration courts economic disaster.”

Libertarian-leaning GOP Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump escalates fight with NY Times The 10 GOP senators who may break with Trump on emergency Congress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support MORE (Utah) has introduced legislation to give Congress oversight over any trade decision, including new tariffs. After Trump’s decision, he said he will work “to make sure these tax hikes are never enforced.”

Trump’s move to slap tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum defies GOP orthodoxy, but isn’t a huge surprise given the president’s message from the 2016 campaign.

Republicans disappointed with the decision acknowledge it is consistent with Trump’s anti-Washington theme.

“The president's got some ideas ... and he feels like he's made campaign promises and I think he wants to be able to deliver on those promises,” said GOP Sen. John CornynJohn CornynO’Rourke not ruling out being vice presidential candidate O'Rourke mulling another Senate run as well as presidential bid Texas senator introduces bill to produce coin honoring Bushes MORE (R-Texas).

They also say they can still work with Trump.

“We need one another, and we’ve accomplished a lot together,” Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeGOP dismisses polls showing losing battle on shutdown Bottom Line Dems hit GOP on health care with additional ObamaCare lawsuit vote MORE (R-Okla.) told The Hill. “We’ve got to be part of a team with the president, [rather] than at odds with him.”

“I’ve got a whole lot more in common with the president than any difference I might have,” Cole added.

Nonetheless, the level of disappointment is deep, and Republicans had worked hard to get Trump to reverse course.

A small group of lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to set up a last-minute meeting with the president, while over 100 Republicans signed onto a letter warning Trump about the economic consequences of the tariffs and raising concerns about a trade war.

Even some of Trump’s top allies, including House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight Winners and losers in the border security deal GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration MORE (R-N.C.) and key lawmakers who helped deliver Trump’s tax cuts, were unable to change the president's mind.

The tariff showdown represents a stark contrast from the beginning of the year, when Republicans were feeling united following their major tax-reform victory.

And more problems could emerge down the road.

Cornyn argued that lawmakers need to remain engaged as the administration threatens to walk away from the North American Free Trade Agreement. Economic adviser Gary Cohn’s exit and the rising influence of trade director Peter Navarro is also making Republicans nervous.

“We just need to stick close to the people that are talking to the president. I’m sorry to see Mr. Cohn leave and the ascent of Mr. Navarro … who has a lot of wrong ideas when it comes to trade. The president needs good advice,” Cornyn said Friday at an energy conference in Texas. He described himself as “concerned.”

Any legislation to fence in the White House would face an uphill battle because it has to be signed by Trump. That could require a bill to ultimately get two-thirds support in both chambers — a potentially herculean task for a GOP-controlled Congress against a Republican president.

It’s also unlikely that Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump Unscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden MORE (R-Wis.) or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFox News has covered Ocasio-Cortez more than any 2020 Dem besides Warren: analysis Durbin after reading Green New Deal: 'What in the heck is this?' Dems think they're beating Trump in emergency declaration battle MORE (R-Ky.) would be willing to expend much political capital going head-to-head with a GOP president in a midterm election year.

Instead, GOP leaders have stressed that they want to work with Trump to help ensure the tariffs are more narrowly targeted.

“We will continue to urge the administration to narrow this policy so that it is focused only on those countries and practices that violate trade law,” Ryan said in a statement.

Cornyn, seeking to downplay the split, noted that the Bush administration also tried to levy similar tariffs and “you see in the news this wall to wall coverage about tariffs. ... I think a sense of proportion is called for.”

“I think that we're going to have to continue to work with the president and try to make advances where we can to try to convince him that ... trade deficits aren't the end all be all of determining if trading agreements are good,” he said.

Hatch, even while disagreeing with Trump, praised him and pointed the blame toward the president's staff, accusing them of giving “bad advice.”

“If you explain things, he listens. He gets a hundred things a minute he has to solve and resolve so it’s not easy. But I have to say he’s smart,” he said.

Cole admitted that Trump’s tariff announcement caught many congressional Republicans by surprise, including members of GOP leadership.

But despite the rift over tariffs, Cole expressed a willingness to work with Trump in other areas of the agenda where they have common ground.

“It’s certainly not going to make it difficult for me to cooperate with him in other areas we agree,” Cole said.