Graham downplays need for bill reining in Trump on tariffs after White House meeting

Graham downplays need for bill reining in Trump on tariffs after White House meeting
© Greg Nash

GOP Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback Democrats signal they'll reject Trump shutdown proposal Dems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell MORE (S.C.) is signaling that he will not support legislation reining in President TrumpDonald John TrumpEx-US envoy in ISIS fight: 'There's no plan for what's coming' after US troop withdrawal in Syria Giuliani defends Trump going after Cohen's father-in-law Senate Dem: Trump immigration proposal a 'starting point' MORE's authority on tariffs after a closed-door meeting at the White House on Wednesday.

“Now is not the time to undercut President Trump’s ability to negotiate better trade deals. I will not support any efforts that weaken his position," Graham said in a statement.

He added that senators should "give the president the time and ability to achieve his goals.”

Graham didn't specifically mention legislation from GOP Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel Former US special envoy to anti-ISIS coalition joins Stanford University as lecturer MORE (Tenn.) in his statement. But his comment seemed intended to signal his opposition to the bill, which would require congressional approval if Trump wants to implement tariffs in the name of national security.

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Graham helped organize a meeting on Wednesday afternoon between Trump and a group of GOP senators on trade. Trump met with a separate set of senators on the issue on Tuesday.

The back-to-back meetings come amid growing frustration among congressional Republicans about Trump's recent actions on trade, which lawmakers worry will roil the economy months before a midterm election.

Republicans have urged Trump to share what his end game is with them amid fears that the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico could lead to retaliatory measures from key trading allies.

Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerErnst elected to Senate GOP leadership This week: Congress starts lame-duck with leadership fight Senate GOP readies for leadership reshuffle MORE (R-Neb.), who also attended Wednesday's meeting, said she was "encouraged," while Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyDem calls for Cohen to testify before Senate panel over explosive report Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries MORE (R-Iowa) warned Trump to "be careful in dealings or else agriculture is the first to be retaliated against."

Graham added on Wednesday that he is "confident" in Trump's plan, adding that it will "lead us to better trade deals."

In addition to Corker, seven other GOP senators have signed on to legislation requiring congressional approval for tariffs enacted under the national security provisions of the trade law, known as Section 232.

Several other GOP senators have said this week that they are considering the bill, though Corker acknowledged on Wednesday that Republicans could be wary of picking a fight with Trump.

The White House is stepping up its efforts to kill the momentum behind Corker's proposal. Supporters are hoping to attach the bill to the National Defense Authorization Act as soon as this week.

Corker said earlier Wednesday that he had a "lengthy" and "heartfelt" discussion with the president, where Trump urged him not to move forward with the bill.

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  McConnell: Senate will not recess if government still shutdown Barr calls for 'barrier system' on border MORE (R-Iowa) told The Washington Post after Wednesday's meeting that Trump reiterated his opposition to Corker's legislation during the White House discussion.

"He’s the president and I think he would like to have powers remain that allows him to negotiate," Ernst said. "So that was kind of his message."