Tariff fight tests Trump, GOP

Tariff fight tests Trump, GOP
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency 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 HatchGrand Staircase-Escalante: A conservation triumph is headed for future as playground for industry McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal GOP offers to ban cameras from testimony of Kavanaugh accuser 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 FlakeThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Key GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Gillibrand: Kavanaugh accuser shouldn't participate in 'sham' hearing 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 LeeUtah group complains Mia Love should face criminal penalties for improper fundraising Senate approves 4B spending bill Overnight Health Care: Opioid legislation passes overwhelmingly | DOJ backs Cigna-Express Scripts merger | Senate passes ban on pharmacy gag clauses 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 CornynKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle GOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford 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 ColeConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Overnight Health Care: House GOP blocks Trump-backed drug pricing provision | Maryland sues to protect ObamaCare | Insurers offer help to hurricane-impacted areas House GOP blocks Trump-supported drug pricing provision from spending bill 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 MeadowsConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Graham to renew call for second special counsel Hillicon Valley: Sanders finds perfect target in Amazon | Cyberattacks are new fear 17 years after 9/11 | Firm outs alleged British Airways hackers | Trump to target election interference with sanctions | Apple creating portal for police data requests 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 RyanElection Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls On The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Nancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? MORE (R-Wis.) or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump hints at new executive action on immigration, wants filibuster-proof Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump 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.