- Republicans are distraught over President Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs on steel and aluminium.
- But many Republican lawmakers are still unsure about any action they are willing to take to stop a trade war they think could hurt the economic gains of the past year.
WASHINGTON – Republican lawmakers have been distraught over President Donald Trump’s proposal to slap tariffs on aluminium and steel, fearing its effects could hinder the economic gains made over the past year of Republican-led government.
But lawmakers are at a loss over what they can do about it other than plead for mercy from the White House.
A group of 107 Republican members of Congress sent a letter to the White House on Wednesday, urging Trump to “reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to the US economy and its workers.”
Price increases on goods for American consumers and rocky trade war could turn otherwise favourable marks on the economy for Republicans upside down.
“I still think that several of us, as well as others, are continuing to communicate that we wanna see this economic recovery continue to go and we feel like any potential trade war would dissipate that momentum to some degree,” said Rep. Mark Walker, who chairs the Republican Study Committee. “So that’s what we’re concerned about.”
Freshman Rep. John Curtis of Utah told Business Insider he is “very concerned about a broad tariff” that could have adverse effects on the economy and relationships with trade partners, adding that he said Congress should still focus on individual bad actors.
Republicans are unsure of asserting their own power
But flexing any legislative muscle over how trade deals are negotiated is not on the table for Republicans.
“I don’t think that we’re at that point here where we’re willing to take a look at that strong of a stance,” Walker said Thursday. “Obviously we’re trying to be consistent that we think most good policy comes out of the legislative side as intended by our founding fathers. That doesn’t mean the president doesn’t have the authority to weigh in on that.”
Jumping into trade fights would be too heavy of a lift for a Congress in its current state, New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur told reporters on Thursday.
“I just know that the reason Congress grants the administration certain powers is that you just can’t manage certain things by committee,” MacArthur said. “And when you’re in negotiations on trade issues, you cannot do that with a dysfunctional, highly partisan Congress. You have to have an administration that has authority and power. So we’ve made our wishes known.”
Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, who often clashed with the Obama administration over alleged executive overreach, said now wasn’t the time for Congress to be at odds with Trump.
“I think for us to flex power now – flex our muscles now – would diminish his ability to negotiate good deals,” Gohmert told Business Insider. “And if there’s a problem, we’ll do our lobbying in the Senate.”
Aside from sending letters to the White House, Republicans are quietly navigating the tariff situation through Vice President Mike Pence.
Politico reported that Republicans are lobbying against the tariffs through Pence, who is relaying messages to the president.
But, as many Republicans noted, Trump has been firm in his stances on trade for a long time, posing an obstacle to anyone trying to change his mind.
“This is something he’s been talking about with a few things for decades and I think that’s important to it,” Walker said. “Part of it is making sure that we’re all keeping our – the American public – informed as far as the potentialities of this. We understand what China’s done and the president is correct on getting the short end of the stick of our trade deals. But we wanna make sure that the penny doesn’t swim so far that it becomes a damage here.”
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