- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2018

President Trump vowed not to back down Monday from plans for tariffs on steel and aluminum that sent shock waves across America’s political landscape, deepening a rift with Congress’ Republican leaders.

Republican opposition to the plan intensified, with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan saying the president risked undermining the economic gains from tax cuts.

“We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan,” said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong.

The speaker’s office also sent out an email touting a 150-point drop in Dow Jones industrial average Monday morning to highlight the ill effects of Mr. Trump’s tariff proposal.

Stocks had skid since Mr. Trump announced Thursday plans to slap tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum.

Within two hours, however, the blue-chip index rebounded. The Dow closed Monday up more than 336 points or 1.37 percent, as investors thought the president gave himself some wiggle-room on the tariffs.

“We’re not backing down,” Mr. Trump said.

He also said that the tariffs could be addressed as part of ongoing renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, which he called a “bad deal” and a “disaster” for the U.S.

“If we don’t make a deal, I’ll terminate NAFTA. But if I do make a deal which is fair to the workers and to the American people, that would be, I would imagine, one of the points that we’ll negotiate,” the president said.

For now, he said he was “100 percent” in favor of the tariffs.

Canada, the No. 1 exporter of both steel and aluminum to the U.S., has threatened retaliatory action.

But, Mr. Trump said, “I don’t think we’re going to have a trade war.”

Negotiators from the Canada, Mexico and the U.S. were in Mexico City for the final day of the latest round of negotiations.

Democrats, who often support tariffs, have criticized Mr. Trump for either not moving quickly enough or for proposing tariffs too broadly.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the tariff should be limited to China, which has been accused of dumping cheap subsidized steel in the U.S.

Steel tariffs imposed by President George W. Bush in 2002 did not apply to Canada and Mexico.

Dismantling NAFTA and slapping tariffs on steel were key campaign promises that helped Mr. Trump win over crucial blue-collar voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, three states that had gone Democratic for the last several presidential elections but provided him with the winning margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The tariffs are popular within the steel and aluminum industry.

Republican strategist Jim McLaughlin said the tariffs won’t hurt Mr. Trump or GOP candidates in the midterm elections as long as the economy remains strong.

“If the economy is still doing well, he’s going to look like a genius to certain parts of the country,” he said.

Mr. Trump has faced divisions within the White House over the tariff plan. Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic adviser, opposes the tariffs, while Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross remains a staunch supporter.

The plan faces fierce resistance from conservatives who support free-trade policies and view the tariff as a tax that will be passed on to consumers in every product that uses steel or aluminum, from cans of beer to automobiles.

The friction isn’t new between Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican. They’ve been on the same page with the president’s tax cuts and deregulation, but clashed since the 2016 campaign over Mr. Trump’s populist “America first” agenda.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders played down the rift.

“Look, we have a great relationship with Speaker Ryan,” she said. “We will continue to have one, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.”

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