The most frantic lobbying aimed at talking US President Donald Trump out of imposing tariffs on foreign-made metals may not be coming from foreign capitals, but from his own party.
While foreign leaders have warned against the trade action, Republican lawmakers are urging Trump to back off the trade action he announced last week, and are actively looking at a way to block the measures with legislation.
“We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan,” House Speaker Paul Ryan’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong was quoted by Politico as saying. “The new tax reform law has boosted the economy and we certainly don’t want to jeopardize those gains.”
Ryan’s own reported efforts to change Trump’s mind were rebuffed by the president, who was busy tweeting on Monday morning about America’s steel and aluminum industries.
Meanwhile, as the realization that Trump will actually follow through with stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports sets in, Republicans in Congress are weighing options to rein in their wayward president.
While the US constitution gives Congress authority over trade issues, recent history has seen that power ceded to the executive branch. Politico is reporting that Congress might try to take that power back. One way it could do that is by passing a veto-proof bill knocking down the tariffs. But such a move would require a two-thirds majority, by no means guaranteed with Republicans and Democrats from rust-belt states beholden to the industries that might benefit from tariffs.
Another possibility is to box Trump in with a bill to fund the government that includes a provision on the tariffs, which the president might feel obliged to sign, politically.
Lawmakers also could opt not to extend Trump’s trade-promotion authority, which allows him to submit negotiated trade deals to Congress for an up or down vote. Such a move would carry its own risks, freeing Trump from the requirement to follow congressional guidelines in the negotiating process.
The difficulties facing Congress on the issue underscore the disconnect between Washington and the rest of the country, which elected Trump to take action on trade. Unlike in Washington, in many states that stunned the world by supporting Trump, the bipartisan consensus on free trade is a thing of the past.