Republican senators are not too happy with the White House right now.
After President Donald Trump said Thursday that his administration will impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports next week, GOP senators spoke out about their fear of retaliation from other countries and the lack of communication from the White House.
Sen. Ben Sasse, who’s been a frequent critic Trump, slammed the tariffs decision as something Americans would expect from a “leftist administration,” not a Republican commander in chief.
“Let’s be clear: The President is proposing a massive tax increase on American families. Protectionism is weak, not strong,” he said in a statement. “You’d expect a policy this bad from a leftist administration, not a supposedly Republican one.”
Sen. Pat Roberts, who is the chair of the Senate agriculture committee, also blasted the decision for the tariffs and warned of retaliation.
“They’ve already done this on washing machines and solar panels and the sorghum producer, one of the rare crops where we were making a profit, got targeted by China,” he said. “Every time you do this, you get a retaliation. And agriculture is the number one target. I think this is terribly counterproductive for the (agriculture) economy and I’m not very happy.”
When asked why Trump made the decision Roberts and other senators made the case to him, Roberts responded: “Good question.”
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said the tariffs would be a “huge job-killing tax hike.”
“While I am sympathetic to the issues facing domestic steel manufacturers, there must be a better way to address the steel industries concerns, and I hope Congress and the executive branch can identify an alternative solution before these tariffs are finalized next week,” he said in a statement.
Even members of Senate leadership who are working with the White House on other measures expressed their concerns about Trump’s plans for trade.
“My reaction is I’m going to study exactly what the President did,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, who is the second ranking Republican in the chamber, told reporters. “But (I’m) obviously concerned about retaliation and unintended consequences.”
Trump said the US will impose a 25% tariff on steel imports and 10% tariff on aluminum, capping a fierce, months-long internal debate that divided some of the President’s top advisers. Anticipating the move, experts have said it is likely to invite retaliatory measures from foreign countries.
Cornyn added he understood where Trump was coming from with the decision because of criticism of the US’ trade policies.
“I’m also sympathetic to what he’s been saying because we’ve been getting heat when it comes to our international trade relationships,” he added. “So we need to scrutinize and see if they’re in America’s best interests and I certainly support that but I need to look at the specifics.”
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said his colleagues are figuring out what they can do about the tariffs.
“I am highly concerned about the negative aspects. I completely want fair and reciprocal trade and there’s no doubt about it America’s has been magnanimous in its trade laws,” he said. “There have been abuses building up over the years. We should target those abuses. I’m just not sure this is the way to do it overall with the steel and aluminum. It really will have negative and unintended consequences.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch told reporters he didn’t believe in tariffs and warned it could create more conflict for the US.
“First of all, I don’t believe in tariffs,” he said. “They don’t work very well. Secondly, it creates tariff wars and I just don’t think that’s the way to go.”
On the House side, Speaker Paul Ryan, through his spokesman, released a statement requesting that the administration reassess the decision for the tariffs.
“The speaker is hoping the president will consider the unintended consequences of this idea and look at other approaches before moving forward,” said Doug Andres, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican.
It wasn’t immediately clear what sparked Trump’s sudden desire to make the policy announcement within 24 hours, but his directive for a next-day announcement came as the White House was engulfed in its latest string of negative headlines.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.