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 LighthizerPelosi sounds hopeful on new NAFTA deal despite tensions with White House On 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 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 GrassleySenate aides met with tax return whistleblower: report Booker, Sanders propose new federal agency to control drug prices GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse 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 TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed 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 PortmanWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump GOP lawmakers fear Trump becoming too consumed by impeachment fight 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 ErnstProgressive group to spend as much as M to turn out young voters Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Turkish media paints White House visit as Erdoğan triumph over Trump MORE (R-Iowa), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Pelosi aide hopeful White House will support drug-pricing bill despite criticism Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies MORE (R-Tenn.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHillicon Valley: Commerce extends Huawei waiver | Senate Dems unveil privacy bill priorities | House funding measure extends surveillance program | Trump to tour Apple factory | GOP bill would restrict US data going to China Senate Democrats unveil priorities for federal privacy bill Political purity tests are for losers MORE (D-Calif.), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerEleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid Female lawmakers make bipartisan push for more women in politics at All In Together gala Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey endorses Biden MORE (R-Neb.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungTester: Our forefathers would not have tolerated Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Erdoğan at White House | Says Turkish leader has 'great relationship with the Kurds' | Highlights from first public impeachment hearing 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 WarnerHillicon Valley: Commerce extends Huawei waiver | Senate Dems unveil privacy bill priorities | House funding measure extends surveillance program | Trump to tour Apple factory | GOP bill would restrict US data going to China Klobuchar unveils plan to secure elections as president Trump officials extend deadline to allow companies to work with Huawei MORE (D-Va.), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Trump has officially appointed one in four circuit court judges Senators press NSA official over shuttered phone surveillance program MORE (R-Neb.) and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanHillicon Valley: Facebook launches 'News Tab' | Senate passes bill to take on 'deepfakes' | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars Senate passes legislation to combat 'deepfake' videos Hillicon Valley: Senators seek national security review of TikTok | TikTok denies claims of Chinese government influence | CNN chief rips Facebook policy on political ads | Dem questions DHS' handling of personal data 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.”