Nine people to watch in the Trump tariff debate

Nine people to watch in the Trump tariff debate
© Getty Images

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE’s proposal to impose steep tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum has provoked a furious pushback from Republicans and even people in the White House.

While Trump insists the tariffs will go forward, Republicans in Congress are trying to convince him to scale back his plans.

Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council and a critic of the plan, announced his resignation from the White House on Tuesday. His decision was seen as a reaction to the proposal.

ADVERTISEMENT

Here are nine people to watch as the debate continues to unfold.


Peter Navarro, White House trade adviser 

Navarro has long argued for tariffs, but was sidelined in the White House debate by chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE. He’s regained clout since the departure of staff secretary Rob Porter, who ran the White House’s trade meetings. 

The former professor scored a major victory with Trump’s announcement and is now being treated on Capitol Hill as a force to be reckoned with. 

“Navarro should know better,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchHatch warns 'dangerous' idea of court packing could hurt religious liberty Former Democratic aide pleads guilty to doxing GOP senators attending Kavanaugh hearing How do we prevent viral live streaming of New Zealand-style violence? MORE (R-Utah), a critic of Trump’s tariff announcement. 

U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerChinese, US negotiators fine-tuning details of trade agreement: report The Trump economy keeps roaring ahead Trump says no discussion of extending deadline in Chinese trade talks MORE

Lighthizer backs the president’s argument that the threat of the tariffs could accelerate completion of a new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada.

“It is my view that it’s an incentive to get a deal,” Lighthizer said after completion of the seventh round of NAFTA talks in Mexico City on Monday. 

Trump connected the tariffs to NAFTA in a series of tweets on Monday, suggesting he could use the tariffs as leverage to get a better deal.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossHouse chairman threatens to find Justice official in contempt of Congress DOJ rejects Oversight subpoena unless agency lawyer is permitted to attend Third judge blocks citizenship question from 2020 census MORE

Ross sent Trump a series of options last month for taking action on steel and aluminum.

He has argued that the tariffs would have a “limited impact” on consumers and businesses because they would only raise prices by fractions of a penny. 

“The notion that it would destroy a lot of jobs, raise prices, disrupt things, is wrong,” he said. 

Ross was among several White House staffers who reportedly debated the need for tariffs in front of Trump in the Oval Office. 

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO

Trumka, who fought against Trump on taxes and health care, has praised the president’s tariff plan, highlighting the topsy-turvy nature of the new trade debate.

“For years, we have called attention to the predatory practices of some steel exporting countries,” Trumka said. “Such practices hurt working people and cheat companies that produce in the U.S. We applaud the administration’s efforts today to fix this problem.” 

Trumka and five other top labor union leaders met with Trump last month at the White House.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty MORE (R-Wis.)

Ryan is personally lobbying Trump to reconsider the tariffs.

The Speaker has shared his concerns with the president on multiple occasions, while his office blasted out an email this week highlighting a news article that linked a drop in the stock market to Trump’s announcement.

The public pushback from Ryan, the House’s top Republican, represents a rare break from the GOP president. But it’s unclear how much sway Ryan will have over Trump.

Ryan is pressing the Trump administration to take a more “surgical” and “targeted” approach to slapping the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and to zero in on abuses from China.

The Speaker made the same arguments to fellow Republicans during their closed-door GOP conference meeting, sources in the room said.

Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyTreasury to miss Dem deadline for Trump tax returns Treasury expected to miss Dem deadline on Trump tax returns Mnuchin tells Congress it's 'premature' to talk about Trump tax returns decision MORE (R-Texas) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)

Trump’s key soldiers on the tax cuts, Brady and Hatch, have led the charge against the tariffs in Congress.

Hatch has sent a letter to the White House urging Trump to rethink his approach, while Brady is planning to send a similar letter.

Both lawmakers believe their behind-the-scenes push could succeed in winning over Trump before he finalizes the proposal.

“Some of us have weighed in. ... I think he’s thinking it through,” Hatch told reporters. “I think he’s shooting one across the bow and letting people know that we’re not being treated fairly.”

GOP members want the president to exempt fairly traded products from the plan.

“We urge you to reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to the U.S. economy and its workers,” Brady’s letter states. “We are eager to work with you in pursuing a workable, targeted approach that achieves our shared goal.”

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Budowsky: 2020 Dems should debate on Fox Overnight Health Care: How 2020 Dems want to overhaul health care | Brooklyn parents sue over measles vaccination mandate | Measles outbreak nears record MORE (D-Ohio)

Brown has been at the forefront of Democratic support for Trump’s trade policy decisions, calling repeatedly for action to provide relief to the U.S. steel industry. 

The Ohio Democrat welcomed Trump’s plans to crack down on unfair steel imports that he says have hurt the domestic industry. 

Brown has touted his close relationships with the administration’s top trade officials.

“This welcome action is long overdue for shuttered steel plants across Ohio and steelworkers who live in fear that their jobs will be the next victims of Chinese cheating,” he said. 

He has a few other Democrats in his corner, such as Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech MORE (Ore.) and Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyLicense to discriminate: Religious exemption laws are trampling rights in rural America More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate MORE (Pa.).

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau  

Trudeau has been quick to talk Trump down from a trade ledge in the past, including last year when he urged the president to remain in the NAFTA pact. 

On Monday, Trudeau spoke to Trump and expressed his serious concerns about the threat of the proposed tariffs. 

Trudeau said the tariffs may aggravate already tough NAFTA negotiations.