President Trump on Thursday officially announced steep tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, defying his own party and delivering on a campaign promise to fight what he sees as unfair practices by U.S. trading partners.
Trump signed paperwork enacting tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum during a hastily arranged event at the White House.
“Today, I am defending America’s national security by placing tariffs on foreign imports of steel and aluminum,” Trump said in the Roosevelt Room, flanked by steel and aluminum workers.
Trump said the domestic steel and aluminum industry has been “ravaged by aggressive foreign trade practices.”
“This has been an assault on our country,” he said.
The president temporarily exempted Canada and Mexico from the tariffs, arguing his administration would continue talks with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners. Trump has separately discussed withdrawing the United States from NAFTA.
White House officials said that all other countries will be able to make their case as to why they should be exempt from the tariffs and what they will do to shore up their national security relationship with the United States.
The tariffs will take effect in 15 days, giving trading partners such as the European Union and South Korea little time to argue for exemptions.
The president will have the discretion to add or subtract countries and raise and lower the tariffs at any time, a senior administration official said. But Trump did not seem to be enthusiastic about the prospect of further carve-outs.
“The countries that treat us the worst on trade and on military are our ‘allies,’ as they like to call them,” he said.
Republican lawmakers, business groups and overseas allies spent all week trying to persuade the president to scrap or curtail the tariffs, worrying that they could spark a global trade war.
They had hoped the tariff announcement would be pushed back to give them more time to convince Trump to back off. But the president could not be convinced, determined to deliver on his campaign promise to take a tougher approach on trade.
“The workers who poured their souls into building this great nation were betrayed,” Trump said. “But that betrayal is now over.”
Turning to the workers at his side, Trump said they are “probably the reason” he was elected president.
Trump has long argued that tariffs are needed to revive the U.S. steel and aluminum industries. He enacted the steel and aluminum measures using a rarely used legal provision known as Section 232 that allows the president to impose tariffs unilaterally if imports are determined to pose a national-security risk.
The White House argues that the tariff policy will actually strengthen the global rules-based trading system by addressing problems caused by China’s steel overcapacity.
Critics have called it an thinly veiled excuse to enact protectionist policies that are overly broad, while gaining leverage over Canada and Mexico in the ongoing renegotiation of NAFTA.
Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, said Thursday that “for Canada to be considered as posing any kind of security threat to the United States is inconceivable.”
She said Canadian officials worked tirelessly with U.S. counterparts to secure an exemption from the tariffs.
“This work continues and it will continue until the prospect of these duties is fully and permanently lifted,” Freeland said.
On NAFTA, Freehand insisted that Canada’s approach to the negotiations “has been consistent since negotiations began last year. Today’s announcement does not change that.”
The tariffs were the subject of an intense debate within the White House, pitting protectionists like trade adviser Peter Navarro against free traders like National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who argued that the measures could anger allies and hurt the economy.
Cohn announced Tuesday he was resigning from the White House after losing the tariff debate, adding to the turmoil that has wracked the West Wing.
The tariffs received a chilly reception on Capitol Hill, where Republicans, and some Democrats, criticized Trump’s decision.
Congressional Republicans expressed deep concern over the moves, voicing fear that Trump could be poised to take even more aggressive actions on trade in the future, including ripping up NAFTA.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a vocal free trader and Trump critic, said he would introduce legislation to nullify the tariffs.
“Trade wars are not won, they are only lost,” he said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues to pass it before this exercise in protectionism inflicts any more damage on the economy.”
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he disagreed with the tariffs and pledged to lobby Trump to further “narrow this policy so that it is focused only on those countries and practices that violate trade law.”
Some Democrats who are traditionally skeptical of free trade said the president should focus his actions on China.
“President Trump wants to put China on notice for their abusive trade practices that hurt American workers and industries. I support that. The sweeping tariffs announced today are like dropping a bomb on a flea,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
The tariffs received support from the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor coalition, which is closely aligned with Democrats.
“Tariffs won’t start a trade war, there’s 435 of them in place today to fight trade cheaters. People may not like how Pres Trump rolled these out, but I applaud him for trying,” tweeted the group’s president, Richard Trumka.
Trump has indicated he is ready to go even further on trade. He tweeted Wednesday that “the U.S. is acting swiftly on Intellectual Property theft,” referring to an ongoing probe into whether China’s practices are hurting American businesses.
Trump warned that China would not be the only target, claiming he would impose a “reciprocal tax or mirror tax” on nations he believes are not treating the U.S. fairly.
White House officials, however, have repeatedly said the president does not plan to impose such a tax.
– This story was updated at 6:19 p.m.