GOP leader declines to back Trump tariff plan

GOP leader declines to back Trump tariff plan
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Monday declined to support President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice says it will recommend Trump veto FISA bill Fauci: Nominating conventions may be able to go on as planned Poll: Biden leads Trump by 11 points nationally MORE’s proposed 35 percent tariff on companies that leave the U.S., warning it could spark a trade war.

In a series of tweets over the weekend, Trump threatened to seek retribution against U.S. companies that ship jobs overseas by imposing a 35 percent tariff on their goods. But McCarthy and other free-market Republicans seem skeptical of that plan.  

“I don’t want to get into some type of trade war,” McCarthy said Monday during a news briefing with reporters in his Capitol office.  

McCarthy's briefing was dominated by questions about Trump’s tariff proposal and his deal to provide millions in incentives to Carrier to keep jobs in Indiana.

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“Do you want to know my philosophical belief?” McCarthy said during one heated exchange with reporters. “I believe in the free market. I don’t think government should be picking winners and losers.”

McCarthy, a fervent Trump supporter and the No. 2 House Republican in leadership, would not commit to bringing the president-elect’s tariff proposal to the House floor for a vote. He said the GOP’s tax reform efforts would create a much better business environment and eliminate the need for such measures.

“I think there are other ways to achieve what the president-elect is talking about,” McCarthy said, “but the only way you can do any of this is you’ve got to do tax reform. And that’s why I think that will be a cornerstone of what we do.”

A leading conservative, free-market advocacy group lauded McCarthy's comments on Trump's proposed tariff.

“Tax cuts and deregulation will make the American economy great again, but tariffs and trade wars will make it tank again,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh said in a statement. “The president-elect is spot on when he calls for cutting taxes and federal regulations, but 35-percent tariffs would be devastating to consumers and businesses. 

"The Majority Leader is right to caution against protectionism and to urge a robust debate on free markets and trade," added McIntosh, a former House GOP lawmaker.

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McCarthy urged reporters not to prejudge what the president-elect would do. Trump, he said, hasn’t even take the oath of office yet.

“Take a deep breath. He’s not sworn in yet,” McCarthy advised the roughly 30 reporters who packed his conference room. “I know you gotta write news, but let’s not predetermine what the outcome is yet. ...

“Is he president of the United States right now? So what did he give them? He has no authority yet to give them anything," added McCarthy when pressed on the state of Indiana's decision to grant heating and air conditioning giant Carrier Corp. $7 million in tax breaks to prevent about 1,000 jobs from being sent to Mexico.

Trump had applied pressure to Carrier executives to keep the jobs in Indiana, while Vice President-elect Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceGOP governors jockey to elbow out North Carolina as convention host North Carolina requests 'written plan' from GOP on coronavirus safety for convention Pence press secretary returns to work after recovering from coronavirus MORE, the sitting governor of the Hoosier State, directly negotiated the terms of the agreement.

Updated at 2:26 p.m.