How Republicans tried to change Trump's mind on tariffs

Less than a half hour before President Donald Trump announced at the White House he intended to tack on new tariffs to aluminum and steel coming into the United States, House Speaker Paul Ryan was at a Home Depot in Atlanta telling employees there he was still trying to persuade Trump to scale back his plan.

"We're working on it," Ryan said Thursday afternoon when asked what Congress could do to convince Trump to take a more surgical approach to tariffs. "We're working on that right now, we're working on that right now." Not long after, Trump announced his plan and Ryan responded. "I disagree with this action and fear its unintended consequences," Ryan's statement read. "I am pleased that the President has listened to those who share my concerns and included an exemption for some American allies, but it should go further." Over the last week, Republicans on Capitol Hill have openly opined Trump's trade policy, attacked the protectionist wing of his staff by name, criticized the White House's rollout and publicly bemoaned the loss of top economic adviser Gary Cohn, an ally on trade who stepped down this week amid the drama. After more than a year of Trump's unpredictable rhetoric, Twitter wars and off-script, televised meetings, Republicans across the ideological spectrum in Congress are no longer just privately fuming at Trump. They're doing it publicly. "Everybody's trying to reach somebody who might have influence," Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona told CNN just before the announcement. "If you're our allies, our trading partners, you've got to be pulling your hair out right now." There's been policy disagreements over taxes and health care. But Trump's latest actions on trade have left Republicans incensed, no longer willing to give Trump just the benefit of the doubt. "Simply put: This is a tax hike on American manufacturers, workers and consumers," Sen. Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement. "Slapping aluminum and steel imports with tariffs of this magnitude is misguided. It undermines the benefits that the new tax law provides and runs counter to our goal of advancing pro-growth trade policies that will keep America competitive in the 21st Century global economy." Furiously working behind the scenes According to several aides and sources involved in the matter, lawmakers and aides have worked for days to try and reverse Trump's course or at least get him to water down his proposal behind the scenes as well. Lawmakers from Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on down to rank-and-file Republicans who boasted of good relationships in the White House worked to try and reshape what had been initially announced as a broad, sweeping action. The results were mixed -- with some pointing to small victories in the structure of what the President announced Thursday. "Look, it's better than what it was," one senior Republican aide said. "Does that remedy a bad policy? No. But it's an opening." "Trade wars are insanely stupid so slightly smaller trade wars are less disastrous. But trade wars are dumb. Americans lose in every trade war. Consumers win when there is more trade on both sides of every trading relationship," Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, said ahead of Trump's announcement. Both Ryan and McConnell spoke to concerned allies, the sources said. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called both on Thursday before the announcement, according to sources.
Uploaded 03/09/2018
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