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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 GrahamThe Memo: Trump in a corner on Saudi Arabia Trump should stick to his guns and close failed South Carolina nuclear MOX project CNN's Smerconish: What do Saudis have over American presidents? MORE (S.C.) is signaling that he will not support legislation reining in President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council 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: Trump in a corner on Saudi Arabia Corker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation 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 FischerCook Political Report shifts three Senate races toward Republicans Kavanaugh fight puts Senate on edge of precipice ACLU's M in anti-Kavanaugh ads won't target Flake, Collins MORE (R-Neb.), who also attended Wednesday's meeting, said she was "encouraged," while Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP plays hardball in race to confirm Trump's court picks Trump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight Dems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October 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 ErnstDemocrats won’t let Kavanaugh debate die Overnight Defense: Trump ramps up pressure on Iran, international courts | Arrest made after suspicious letters sent to Trump, Mattis | US to offer NATO cyber capabilities Admiral defends record after coming under investigation in 'Fat Leonard' scandal 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."