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 GrahamThreat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats Congress, White House near deal on spending, debt limit MORE (S.C.) is signaling that he will not support legislation reining in President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign 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 CorkerJeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump Corker: 'I just don't' see path to challenge Trump in 2020 Ex-GOP Sen. Corker: Trump primary would be 'good thing for our country' 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 FischerCongress readies for battle over nuclear policy Trump's pursuit of infrastructure deal hits GOP roadblock Why America needs the ability to track enemy missiles from space MORE (R-Neb.), who also attended Wednesday's meeting, said she was "encouraged," while Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThreat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Trump mulling visit to ethanol refinery later this month: report Nursing home care: A growing crisis for an aging America  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 ErnstCongress, White House near deal on spending, debt limit Trump mulling visit to ethanol refinery later this month: report Bullock: Running for Senate 'never really got me excited' 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."