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GOP lawmakers say Trump should tamp down trade rhetoric

GOP lawmakers say Trump should tamp down trade rhetoric
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Senate Republicans want President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoaquín Castro: Trump would be 'in court right now' if he weren't the president or 'privileged' Trump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference Comey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony MORE to tone down his rhetoric on trade heading into a pivotal meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit this weekend in Buenos Aires. 

The meeting has taken on the air of a major summit, with the direction of the global economy hanging in the balance.

Trump roiled the stock markets earlier this week when he called it “highly unlikely” that he would hold off on increasing tariff levels on Chinese goods to 25 percent in January.

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The president dropped another bombshell statement Wednesday when he floated a 25 percent tariff on automobile imports in response to a decision by General Motors to close U.S. factories. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchInternet gambling addiction is a looming crisis Trump runs into GOP opposition with NAFTA threat Hatch weighs in on reported push to ban phrases like 'bringing home the bacon' with video MORE (R-Utah) said Trump is a “clever negotiator” but said “he needs to tamp it down.”

“I wish we could just have normal robust trade with fewer tariffs,” he said of Trump’s meeting with Xi. 

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Defense: Trump at G-20 | Calls Ukraine 'sole reason' for canceling Putin meeting | Senate passes resolution condemning Russian actions | Armed Services chairmen warn against defense cuts Senate passes resolution condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine Overnight Defense: Trump faces new Russia test over Ukraine | Cancels plans to meet Putin at G-20 | Officials float threat of military action against Iran MORE (R-Wis.) warned that Trump needs to “look very carefully at what’s happening in the stock market” and that his advisers “have to listen very carefully to businesses who are quietly trying to convey the disaster they’re going to be seeing in financial results.”

“The administration is playing with fire and I’m really concerned about it,” he said.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenators want assurances from attorney general pick on fate of Mueller probe 5 themes to watch for in 2020 fight for House Judd Gregg: The last woman standing MORE (R-Maine) said increasing tariffs on automobiles could have unforeseen reverberations. 

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“Given the way the supply chain works in the automobile industry, that could harm a lot of other manufacturers,” she said. 

In an unusual twist, some Democrats are applauding Trump’s saber-rattling.

“I certainly want automobiles made in Michigan,” said Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowManchin’s likely senior role on key energy panel rankles progressives This week: Lawmakers return to mourn George H.W. Bush George H.W. Bush remembered at Kennedy Center Honors MORE (D-Mich.). “Anything that adds costs to cars coming into the U.S. would be a deterrent” to buying imports. 

But members of Trump’s own party aren’t happy. 

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate advances Trump energy pick after Manchin flips The Senate must reject Bernard McNamee’s nomination for FERC Overnight Defense: Congress pauses to mourn George H.W. Bush | Haspel to brief senators on Khashoggi killing | Soldier is fourth to die from Afghan IED blast MORE (R-Alaska) said the war of words with China has hurt her state, which exports $1 billion worth of seafood to the Chinese market. 

“The impact that has had on our significant industry — there’s not a lot of excitement to see that increase,” she said of Trump’s threat to further raise tariffs on more than $200 billion in Chinese goods. “It’s a big hurt to us.”

The tariffs were put in place partly because of U.S. complaints over China’s theft of U.S. intellectual property, a cause most GOP lawmakers support. But they worry U.S. consumers, farmers and manufacturers could pay too high a price.

It’s not the only frustration over a Trump trade policy for the GOP.

Senate Republicans are also miffed that Trump hasn’t yet submitted to Congress the text of a new trade deal negotiated this year with Canada and Mexico that would replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. 

Trump has until Friday to send the final text to Congress to allow enough time for a vote before the start of the new Congress, when Democrats will take over control of the House. 

GOP lawmakers predict the next Democratic Speaker — who is likely to be current House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDisputed North Carolina race raises prospect of congressional probe The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — The political currents that will drive the shutdown showdown Kobach ‘very concerned’ voter fraud may have happened in North Carolina MORE (D-Calif.) — probably won’t bring the bill to the floor for a vote. 

“Nancy Pelosi does not have a long track record of ratifying Republican free-trade agreements. We have seen this movie before,” Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.), a leading member of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters Thursday morning.

Toomey noted that when Democrats last controlled the House, Pelosi blocked action on free-trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea negotiated by the George W. Bush administration. 

“The Colombia agreement is a great example. She had it, TPA was in force, and she promptly passed a rule killing TPA. They never took it up. Never. She was the Speaker for years and it got ratified when she was no longer the Speaker,” Toomey said, using an acronym for the Trade Promotion Authority law, which authorizes fast congressional action on trade deals.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSunday shows preview: Trade talks, Cohen sentencing memo take center stage On The Money: Markets roiled by trade tensions | Rally on hopes of Fed pause on rate hikes | Senate sends two-week spending measure to Trump | Consumer bureau pick confirmed | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 Trump runs into GOP opposition with NAFTA threat MORE (S.D.) said Congress could come back to town between Christmas and New Year’s Day to vote on the trade package before Democrats take control.

“If we can get that done, I’d be willing to do it,” he said, though he acknowledged it will be difficult. 

To ratify the deal before January, the administration would have to agree to several changes to increase Republican support, such as removing a provision that sunsets the accord after 16 years. 

GOP senators are also unhappy with the difficulty U.S. companies have had securing waivers for imports crucial to their business. 

Toomey has sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office requesting a review of the Department of Commerce’s granting of tariff exclusion requests for certain imports. 

Commerce has issued decisions on just over a third of the nearly 50,000 exclusion petitions it has received. 

Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenGOP lawmakers say Trump should tamp down trade rhetoric GOP nerves on edge after Sinema takes lead over McSally Trump poised to sign bipartisan water infrastructure bill MORE (R-N.D.) has spoken to U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerMcConnell urges GOP senators to call Trump about tariffs Companies brace for trade war MORE about granting tariff exclusions for an additional round of tariffs. 

“For the third round of the tariffs, we have an exclusion for our manufacturers,” he said. “We have exclusions in the earlier rounds, but we didn’t have them for their third round.”

Economic forecasters are projecting that gross domestic product growth could dip below 2 percent next year as a result of trade tensions and rising interest rates.   

Goldman Sachs projected in a note to clients last week that growth would slow to 1.8 percent and 1.6 percent in the third and fourth quarters of 2019. 

Expectations of an economic slowdown heading into the 2020 election has rattled GOP lawmakers who made economic growth the centerpiece of their 2018 midterm campaign message. 

Toomey said other economists project the U.S. economy to expand more robustly, but warned a trade war could derail growth. 

“I think the biggest threat to it would be a downward spiral in trade policy and a full-blown trade war. That could be a serious limiting factor on our growth,” he said. 

Asked about tariffs on automobile imports, Toomey said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea, and I hope we don’t do it.”