Senate Republicans feel that President Trump has once again pulled the rug out from under them on trade, leaving GOP lawmakers frustrated over their inability to influence the White House’s policy on an issue that could have major economic and electoral ramifications, The Hill reported.
Days after a group of Republican senators relayed to Trump at a White House meeting their concerns about trade tensions with Canada, Mexico, Europe and China, Trump over the weekend threatened new tariffs on China, escalating a fight with Beijing and rattling markets.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said after the stock markets closed Monday that higher tariffs on China will take effect Friday, shortly after negotiations with a trade delegation from China are due to resume later this week. Lighthizer’s remarks are likely to rattle markets after they recovered most of their losses Monday afternoon as Wall Street strategists cautioned that Trump’s tough talk is a negotiating tactic and a deal with China is still possible.
The controversy over trade has come amid economic data released recently that demonstrates the U.S. economy is booming, which Republicans will lean into in the 2020 election. But some Republicans are worried that Trump’s actions on trade could boomerang and harm the economy.
News that Trump could impose tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese goods came as a surprise to Senate Republicans who felt that bellicose posture flew in the face of what senior administration officials had told them about the talks’ progress.
Asked if anything was resolved at last week’s meeting with Trump, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Finance Committee, responded, “no,” adding that the President did not appear receptive to the entreaties of GOP lawmakers.
“It wasn’t necessarily a welcome message, but nothing was decided,” Cornyn said of the pleas from Senate Republicans for Trump to rein in his tariff policy.
Trump firmly stood by his penchant for slapping penalties on trade partners as an effective negotiating tool, even after GOP allies voiced concerns about the potential impact on the economy.
“He made clear that he liked tariffs as an instrument to bring people to the negotiating table,” Cornyn said.
Other Republican senators who attended the meeting characterized it as a “debate” where neither side gave much ground.
Trump told GOP lawmakers that he didn’t think the Chinese would agree to what he would consider a good trade agreement unless Chinese officials felt the market for their exports to the United States was under serious threat, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
The GOP lawmakers raised the prospect of the Senate moving legislation to limit Trump’s tariff authority through competing proposals sponsored by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), that would either require Congress’s approval to impose tariffs or empower lawmakers to reject future tariffs through disapproval resolutions.
The lawmakers urged Trump to repeal tariffs on Canada and Mexico and to hold off on placing trade barriers on automobiles, which would hurt Republican states with auto-manufacturing facilities, such as Indiana, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama.