Trade official warns senators of obstacles to quick China deal

The top U.S. trade official told a bipartisan group of senators in a private meeting last week that major sticking points remain in negotiations with China, a sign that it is unlikely the world's two biggest economies will strike a deal before a March 1 deadline.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerOn The Money: Economy adds 164K jobs in July | Trump signs two-year budget deal, but border showdown looms | US, EU strike deal on beef exports Chinese, US negotiators fine-tuning details of trade agreement: report The Trump economy keeps roaring ahead MORE provided the briefing to members of the Finance Committee, as well as other committees with a stake in implementing trade deals, including the Agriculture, Judiciary, and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

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“I got the impression that they’re making some progress and there’s a feeling that there’s negotiations in good faith, but the really big things haven’t been tackled yet,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest Grassley'Mike Pounce' trends on Twitter after Trump slip at GOP retreat Cruz warns GOP support for expanded background checks could help elect Warren president Lawmakers applaud Trump's ban on flavored e-cigarettes MORE (R-Iowa) told The Hill, adding that he did not receive any assurance from Lighthizer that a trade deal would be negotiated before a new round of tariffs take effect at the beginning of next month.

“You kinda conclude that there’s a lot of indication of progress, but then it’s too soon to draw a conclusion,” Grassley said.

Asked if Lighthizer thinks he can get a deal by March 1, Grassley said, “I don’t think I can say yes to that.”

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy MORE has threatened to raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent if no deal is reached. 

Lighthizer called March 1 a “hard deadline” during a December appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

But on Friday the White House reportedly wavered.

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CNBC cited a White House official saying the March 1 deadline “could change” if the Trump administration thinks there is sufficient progress in the talks.

A U.S. trade delegation is scheduled to travel to China in the upcoming week for another round of negotiations.

The stock market plunged Thursday after it was reported that Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping would not meet again before the deadline.

Senators on Wednesday pressed Lighthizer over their concern about tariffs and the impact on the economy, which has already taken a hit from the 35-day partial government shutdown that ended on Jan. 25.

“If there’s one thing that stood out, it was, ‘Gotta get rid of these tariffs,’” Grassley said of the meeting.

The U.S. trade representative’s office did not respond to an email request for comment.

If higher tariffs go into effect next month, it would set the stage for Senate action on legislation to curb Trump’s future authority on imposing trade penalties.

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones Portman The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Hillicon Valley: Google to promote original reporting | Senators demand answers from Amazon on worker treatment | Lawmakers weigh response to ransomware attacks Lawmakers weigh responses to rash of ransomware attacks MORE (R-Ohio), a member of the Finance Committee, this past week introduced bipartisan legislation that would overhaul the administration’s power to impose tariffs under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

The legislation would require the Department of Defense, instead of the Commerce Department, to justify the national security basis for invoking Section 232.

“I have repeatedly expressed concerns about the misuse of the Section 232 statute to impose tariffs on automobiles and auto parts, and its impact on Ohio jobs and the U.S. economy as a whole,” Portman said in a statement.

His proposal is co-sponsored by Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay Ernst'Mike Pounce' trends on Twitter after Trump slip at GOP retreat Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections MORE (R-Iowa), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar Alexander The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Liberal group urges Senate panel to vote against Scalia as Labor secretary Suburban anxiety drives GOP on guns MORE (R-Tenn.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions This week: Congress returns for first time since mass shootings GOP senators object to White House delaying home-state projects for border wall MORE (D-Calif.), 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 (R-Neb.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenators pressure Trump to help end humanitarian crisis in Kashmir Congress set for chaotic fall sprint Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess MORE (R-Ind.). 

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.), another influential member of the Finance Committee, has proposed competing legislation that would require the president to win approval from Congress before imposing tariffs or quotas under Section 232.

Toomey said his measure “reasserts Congress’s responsibility in determining whether or not to impose national security based tariffs.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert Warner2020 Democrats raise alarm about China's intellectual property theft State probes of Google, Facebook to test century-old antitrust laws Hillicon Valley: Trump fires Bolton as national security adviser | DOJ indicts hundreds over wire-transfer scam | CEOs push for federal privacy law | Lyft unveils new safety features after sexual assault allegations MORE (D-Va.), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseManufacturing group leads coalition to urge Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank The Hill's Morning Report - Trump ousts Bolton; GOP exhales after win in NC Trump endorses Sasse in 2020 race MORE (R-Neb.) and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanOvernight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare Lawmakers weigh responses to rash of ransomware attacks Hillicon Valley: Google to pay 0M to settle child privacy charges against YouTube | Tech giants huddle with intel officials on election security | Top IT official names China main cyber threat MORE (D-N.H.).

Grassley said he favors addressing Trump’s tariff authority but has not decided whether to prioritize the Portman or Toomey legislation.

“I’m not going to comment on the Portman bill or the Toomey bill because I haven’t got a consensus yet,” he said. “All I’m going to say is that I’m very much favor of the principle of recapturing some of the constitutional power that Congress gave away in the 1962 legislation.”