GOP lawmakers say Trump should tamp down trade rhetoric

GOP lawmakers say Trump should tamp down trade rhetoric
© Getty Images

Senate Republicans want President TrumpDonald John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators 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 JohnsonMystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia Trump may intervene in Pentagon cloud-computing contract: report Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp 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 CollinsHillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout MORE (R-Maine) said increasing tariffs on automobiles could have unforeseen reverberations. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 StabenowUSDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move to Kansas City GOP Senate challenger in Michigan raises .5 million in less than a month It's time to let Medicare to negotiate drug prices 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 MurkowskiOvernight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse PBS premieres first nationally distributed kids' show with Native American lead 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 PelosiSally Yates: Moral fiber of US being 'shredded by unapologetic racism' Al Green calls for additional security for House members after Trump rally #IStandWithPresTrump trends in response to #IStandWithIlhan 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 ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight 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 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 ThuneTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report White House abruptly cancels Trump meeting with GOP leaders McConnell says Trump is not a racist, but calls for better rhetoric 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 HoevenMcConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal Senators introduce bill to prevent border agency from selling personal data Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US MORE (R-N.D.) has spoken to U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerChinese, US negotiators fine-tuning details of trade agreement: report The Trump economy keeps roaring ahead Trump says no discussion of extending deadline in Chinese trade talks 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.”