GOP senators dodge major trade battle with Trump

GOP senators dodge major trade battle with Trump
© Greg Nash

Republican lawmakers are exhaling with relief after they narrowly dodged a standoff with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE this week over tariffs on imports from Mexico.

The fight over immigration and trade had exacerbated tensions between Trump and members of the GOP Senate, risking a major confrontation between the two sides.

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“Very thankful that the president didn’t move ahead with it, very thankful that Mexico is stepping up and doing more to assist us with the humanitarian crisis,” Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstErnst town hall in Iowa gets contentious over guns Air Force probe finds no corroboration of sexual assault allegations against Trump pick Gun control activists set to flex muscle in battle for Senate MORE (Iowa), a member of the GOP leadership team, said Monday in describing her reaction to Trump’s announcement Friday of a deal.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Trump reportedly weighing executive action on alleged tech bias | WH to convene summit on online extremism | Federal agencies banned from buying Huawei equipment | Lawmakers jump start privacy talks The Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill MORE (R-Miss.) also described himself as “relieved” and praised Trump for “devising a strategy that’s paid off.”

“I hope we can go ahead and get Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [(D-Calif.)] to take up USMCA and we can celebrate an astounding victory,” he added, referring to the deal with Canada and Mexico to replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump had threatened to impose a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports by Monday unless Mexico did more to stop illegal immigration from Central America. He had said the tariffs would rise to 25 percent by October without action.

Trump’s threats had sparked talk among senators about a new disapproval resolution, which some Republicans predicted would have passed.

It’s not entirely clear how the GOP’s distaste for the tariffs and pressure on Trump to relent led to the deal with Mexico. There were significant doubts from members of both parties that when push came to shove, the GOP Senate would really take dramatic action against Trump — especially with opponents of the tariffs almost certain to not have the votes to overturn a Trump veto in the House.

Also unclear is whether Republicans and Trump can avoid future fights on trade, the issue that has consistently pulled them apart.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE (R-Texas) said it will largely depend on whether the deal with Mexico reduces the flow of illegal migrants.

“The real test is whether that 144,000 number from May, whether it goes down. That will be the best evidence,” he said, citing the number of migrants taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection last month, a 32 percent increase compared with April.

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Ernst said it will depend on whether Mexico sticks to its pledges. She warned that the tariff threat isn’t entirely off the table and could come back if the border situation fails to improve.

“If Mexico does not step up, I think the president will come back to it,” she said.

Republican lawmakers say it’s time for Congress to act by providing more money to deal with the surge of migrants from Central America and to reform asylum laws, which have contributed to overflowing detention facilities and a growing humanitarian crisis.

“We need to keep moving. That’s on us, too, to make sure that we’re funding border security technology, physical barriers, additional agents, additional beds that are necessary. We’ve got to find a way to come together on that and right now we’re at a stalemate,” said Ernst, a member of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue.

A senior Senate Republican aide said the upcoming July 4 recess could provide a useful target date for passing the $4.5 billion in emergency funding the White House requested last month to deal with the border crisis.

That funding bill could be paired with immigration reforms that are being pushed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid Graham warns Trump on Taliban deal in Afghanistan: Learn from 'Obama's mistakes' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid MORE (S.C.) and Cornyn, a member of the GOP leadership team.

The Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday with acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan on Graham’s proposal to require Central American migrants to apply for asylum from their home countries or from Mexico; hire more immigration judges; and extend the time that children can stay in detention with their families while their asylum claims are processed.

Cornyn is pushing a bill co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas) that would reform procedures for migrant families detained at the border and increase resources at U.S. ports of entry.

Democratic leaders, however, are reluctant to give Trump a victory on his signature issue: illegal immigration. And high-profile efforts to negotiate a bipartisan immigration deal have already failed since Trump took office.

Democrats rejected adding the $4.5 billion border supplemental spending bill to a disaster relief package that passed the Senate before the Memorial Day recess.

Nevertheless, there is growing pressure on Democrats to reach a deal with Republicans.

The New York Times on Sunday published an editorial urging Congress “to cut the squabbling and pass an emergency relief package.”

 Trump on Monday blasted Democrats as obstructionist and lacking a plan for the border.

“In fact, the Democrats are doing NOTHING, they want Open Borders, which means Illigal Immigration, Drugs and Crime,” he tweeted.

That prompted Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down MORE (D-N.Y.) to come to the Senate floor on Monday afternoon to dispute what he called “another bogus claim.”

Schumer insisted that Democrats have a border plan that “would be far more effective at dealing with the actual problem than what President Trump announced on Friday.”

He called for allowing would-be migrants to apply for asylum from their own countries; the United States to provide security assistance to Central American countries to crack down on violent gangs, drug cartels and human traffickers; and to fund an increase of immigration judges at the border so that migrants wouldn’t have to wait so long for their claims to be processed.

Creating a path for migrants to apply for asylum from their own countries and increasing the number of immigration judges are two areas of common ground with Graham’s bill and could provide the starting point for bipartisan negotiations.

Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerThe 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow GOP senator introduces bill banning 'addictive' social media features MORE (Neb.), a member of the Senate GOP leadership team, acknowledged Monday that the economic impact of Trump’s threatened tariffs “would have been a challenge to face.”

She said it’s now up to Congress to pass border security and immigration legislation to take the threat of tariffs away completely.

“Congress needs to step up and do its job and provide funding to address a humanitarian crisis and also address the security of this country,” she said.

Asked about the prospect of Democrats agreeing to anything that could get Trump’s signature, Fischer said “I hope they would.”

“I look forward to working with them,” she said.