Senators hammer Ross over Trump tariffs

Senators hammer Ross over Trump tariffs
© Greg Nash

Senators hammered Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossTrump moving forward with additional 0 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods: report Here are the administration officials who have denied they wrote the anonymous NYT op-ed CNN: Trump searching for Woodward sources in White House MORE Wednesday over the Trump administration's tariffs during a contentious hearing on Capitol Hill.

Ross faced a wall of bipartisan criticism with senators questioning President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE's trade actions and expressing fears over retaliation from trading partners.

On the hot seat, Ross defended the tariffs as necessary to protect American businesses.

“Actions taken by the president are necessary to revive America’s essential steel and aluminum industries," Ross told lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee. “Allowing imports to continue unchecked threatens to impair our national security."

The heated hearing comes as lawmakers in both parties have raised alarm over Trump's moves in recent weeks to implement a series of tariffs on China as well as U.S. allies, including Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

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Those tariffs have rattled markets and sparked anger in the business community, which has warned they could lead to job losses, damage growth and undercut any gains from the GOP tax law.

At the hearing, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchDem rep who met with Kavanaugh accuser: 'She wanted her truth to come out' Senate passes bipartisan bill to curb opioid crisis Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday MORE (R-Utah) targeted tariffs put in place under Section 232, which allows the administration to take trade actions to protect national security.

"The lessons of the steel and aluminum tariffs are clear — these tariffs do not support U.S. national security," Hatch told Ross. 

Hatch shared stories about how other businesses in the broader economy are being affected by the metal tariffs.

"I just don’t see how the damage posed on all of these sectors could possibly advance our national security," Hatch told Ross. 

"Instead, they harm American manufacturers, damage our economy, hurt American consumers, and disrupt our relationship with our long-time allies while giving China a free pass," he said. 

Hatch also said he was shocked when the White House called for an investigation into whether tariffs are needed on auto imports for national security reasons. 

“I'm shocked that anyone would consider making it more expensive,” he said. 

"A car isn’t a can of soup, Mr. Secretary,” he added, taking a jab at Ross.

Earlier this year, Ross held up soup and beer cans during a television interview and argued the metal tariffs would only cost pennies per can and not raise consumer prices.

Republican Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonTrump blasts Tester at Montana rally: 'He loves the swamp' Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash GOP senator warns Trump: Anyone who trash-talks McCain 'deserves a whipping' MORE (Ga.), whose state is home to soft drink giant Coca-Cola argued otherwise.

"That pennies a can is a penny times a billion for billions of cans of Coca-Cola and other products they produce that are sold every single day," Isakson told Ross.

"We're getting into a war that going to cost lots of billions of dollars," he continued. "We need to make sure we know where we're going before find out we got there and it's the wrong place to be."

Tuesday's hearing showcased the mounting frustration over Trump's trade actions in Congress.

“I wish we would stop invoking national security, because that’s not what this is about,” said 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.). “This is about economic nationalism.”

In March, Trump imposed tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum products. In late May, Trump lifted a temporary exemption for the tariffs on Canada, Mexico and the EU, all of which have or are planning to retaliate. 

“What is it about the Canadian steel industry that is a national security threat?” Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetMultiple NFL players continue on-field protests during national anthem No NFL players visibly kneel during season opener Colorado Dem questions White House on 'intentional effort to mislead the American people' on marijuana MORE (D-Colo.) asked Ross.

Ross said that while the U.S. does have a trade surplus in steel with Canada the administration's strategy is to stop China from sending their products through other countries that receive better tariff treatment.

“The only way we’re going to solve the global steel overcapacity is getting all the countries to play ball with us,” Ross said. 

He acknowledged that allies are "complaining bitterly" about the tariffs, but Ross also said they are finally taking action, including by implementing safeguards against Chinese steel in their supply chains.

Toomey who has signed on to a bill from Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (R-Tenn.) to give Congress more authority over Trump's trade actions called the moves against allied trading partners "a wholly inappropriate use of tariffs."

Senators blocked that bill last week though when Corker tried to attach it to an annual defense policy bill.

Corker has said that he is hopeful senators will give the legislation a second look.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless Hillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law MORE (D-Ore.), the panel's ranking member, also criticized the process of excluding important products needed by American businesses from tariffs.

He said small businesses "believe they are being held hostage in a bureaucratic twilight zone waiting to see if they're going to escape," calling the process slow and difficult.

He quoted a top Commerce official who said in a report Wednesday that the exclusion process would be "unbelievably random" and that some companies are "going to get screwed."

"Every week it seems like there is more and more bedlam," he said. 

Ross said there have been delays in hiring the people needed but dismissed the report.

He also Ross said that it would be "impossible" to commit to a specific timetable to deal with the applications because requests were still being received.

Trump has also said he will impose tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports. Beijing retaliated with their own batch of duties on U.S. products leading Trump to up the ante Monday. Trump said he would ask officials to produce a list of tariffs for another $200 billion in Chinese goods, which stunned Congress and business groups.

"The basic strategy is to try to bring enough pressure on parties who are not behaving appropriately," Ross told lawmakers.

But Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph Thune Google, Apple, Amazon execs to testify at Senate privacy hearing this month Trump gets good news on wages Flake rebuts Trump: Anonymous op-ed author did not commit 'treason' MORE (S.D.), a member of Republican leadership, expressed skepticism and said he worried about the effect of tit-for-tat tariffs.

"This thing seems to be escalating out of control fairly quickly," he said.