Republican Senators Standing Up To Trump On Mexico Tariffs
The President's foolish tariffs against Mexico are finally causing many Republican Senators to stand up against him.
Senate Republicans are warning the White House that it could be facing a rebellion over the President’s plan to raise tariffs on Mexico in retaliation for people from Central America coming to the United States to seek asylum:
WASHINGTON — Republican senators sent the White House a sharp message on Tuesday, warning that they were opposed to President Trump’s plans to impose tariffs on Mexican imports, just hours after the president said lawmakers would be “foolish” to try to stop him.
Mr. Trump’s latest threat — 5 percent tariffs on all goods imported from Mexico, rising to as high as 25 percent until the Mexican government stems the flow of migrants — has riled Republican senators who fear its impact on the economy and their home states. They emerged from a closed-door lunch in the Capitol angered by the briefing they received from a deputy White House counsel, Patrick F. Philbin, and Assistant Attorney General Steven A. Engel on the legal basis for imposing new tariffs by declaring a national emergency.
“I want you to take a message back” to the White House, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, told the attorneys, according to people familiar with the meeting. “You didn’t hear a single yes” from the Republican conference. He called the proposed tariffs a $30 billion tax hike on Texans.
Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said he warned the lawyers that the Senate could muster an overwhelming majority to beat back the tariffs, even if Mr. Trump were to veto a resolution disapproving them. Republicans may be broadly supportive of Mr. Trump’s push to build a wall and secure the border, he said, but they are almost uniformly opposed to the imposition of tariffs on Mexico.
“The White House should be concerned about what that vote would result in, because Republicans really don’t like taxing American consumers and businesses,” Mr. Johnson said.
Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, fretted, “We’re holding a gun to our own heads.”
President Trump, just hours before, said he planned to move forward with imposing tariffs on Mexican imports next week as part of his effort to stem the flow of migrants crossing the southern border.
“I think it’s more likely that the tariffs go on, and we’ll probably be talking during the time that the tariffs are on, and they’re going to be paid,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference in London with British Prime Minister Theresa May. When asked about Senate Republicans discussing ways to block the tariffs, Mr. Trump said, “I don’t think they will do that.”
He said, “I think if they do, it’s foolish.”
Republicans are still holding out hope that the tariffs can be avoided. Mexico’s foreign minister is leading a delegation to Washington this week to try to defuse the situation with the Trump administration.
“There is not much support for tariffs in my conference, that’s for sure,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said. “Our hope is that the tariffs will be avoided, and we will not have to answer any hypotheticals.”
Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said he “would not be inclined to vote on a tariff against a friend,” but ventured that “what you’re likely to see is the Mexican government and our government finding some way to work on this collaboratively and not reach a tariff.”
The Washington Post has more, including a discussion of how Republicans in the Senate hope to be able to show the White House that pursuing this strategy would be a mistake:
Defiant Republican senators warned Trump administration officials Tuesday they were prepared to block the president’s effort to impose tariffs on Mexican imports, threatening to assemble a veto-proof majority to mount their most direct confrontation with the president since he took office.
During a closed-door lunch on Capitol Hill, at least a half-dozen senators spoke in opposition to the tariffs President Trump intends to levy next week in an attempt to force Mexico to limit Central American migration to the United States. No senator spoke in support, according to multiple people present who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
The lawmakers told officials from the White House and Justice Department they probably had the Senate votes they needed to take action on the tariffs, even if that meant overriding a veto.
“There is not much support in my conference for tariffs — that’s for sure,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He said senators hope that negotiations with Mexico will be “fruitful” and that the tariffs will not happen. Most GOP senators strongly oppose tariffs because they view them as taxes on Americans.
The contentious lunch meeting occurred just hours after Trump, during a news conference in London, reiterated his intention to impose the tariffs next week and said it would be “foolish” for Republican senators to try to stop him.
“Mexico shouldn’t allow millions of people to try and enter our country, and they could stop it very quickly and I think they will,” Trump said at a news conference alongside British Prime Minister Theresa May. “And if they won’t, we’re going to put tariffs on. And every month those tariffs go from 5 percent to 10 percent to 15 percent to 20 and then to 25 percent.”
The exact process for a vote to block the tariffs remained unclear, but the basic scenario arises from the national emergency Trump declared at the southern border earlier this year to get more money for his border wall. Imposition of tariffs on all Mexican goods requires a legal justification, and administration officials say the existing emergency declaration could provide the basis for that, although it’s also possible Trump would declare a new emergency.
But the law that provides for presidential emergency declarations also allows Congress to vote to overturn them. When Trump declared the border emergency earlier this year, Congress voted to overturn it, but Trump vetoed the measure and Congress failed to override the veto.
This time, opponents of Trump’s tariffs say they have enough support in the Senate to override a veto. If so, it would be the first successful veto override vote in the Trump presidency and a striking defeat for Trump — even if the House ultimately sustains the president’s veto. A two-thirds vote is required in each chamber to override a veto, and Republicans in the House have shown scant interest in defying the president.
“I think the administration ought to be concerned about another vote of disapproval on another national emergency act, this time trying to implement tariffs. Tariffs are not real popular in the Republican conference,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), summarizing what he said he had told the administration officials at Tuesday’s lunch. “This is a different vote.”
At the lunch, senator after senator rose to confront the administration officials present — Steven Engel of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin — according to several officials present in the room or briefed on the lunch who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe it.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) questioned the administration’s legal rationale for levying the tariffs, asking the officials to explain how it could use a law that has never been implemented to impose tariffs — the International Emergency Economic Powers Act — to, in fact, impose tariffs.
The officials assured the senators that they would relay their concerns to the White House but gave them little reason for optimism that Trump would change course, senators said.
Earlier, at the news conference in London, Trump said talks with Mexico will continue even as he goes forward with the tariffs, which he assured “will take effect next week.”
“It’s more likely the tariffs go on and we’ll probably be talking during the time the tariffs are on,” Trump said.
As for the GOP talk of voting on a disapproval resolution to block the levies, Trump said: “Oh, I don’t think they will do that. I think if they did it’s foolish.”
In reality, whatever action Republicans in the Senate are able to take will likely be for naught. A disapproval resolution with respect to these tariffs and the President’s purported use of his emergency powers to justify them is certainly within Congressional power. Additionally, it’s clear that such a resolution would pass the House of Representatives and, based on the public comments we’re seeing, would have more than enough support in the Senate to make it to the President’s desk. It’s obvious, though, that the President is going to veto such a resolution and, while Senate Republicans may be prepared to override that veto, it’s unlikely that there would be enough support among House Republicans for that body to do so as well. Indeed, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has already said as much. Thus, the veto would be sustained as would the tariffs.
Despite this, the fact that so many Republican Senators are speaking out against Trump on this issue, including some, such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who have never really done so before this, speaks to the seriousness with which they view what the President is contemplating doing. Imposing even minimal tariffs on goods from Mexico would have negative consequences for American taxpayers and businesses to an extent that even the ongoing tariffs on Chinese goods have yet to reach. In no small part, this is due to the fact that our trade relationship with Mexico is so closely tied together that putting tariffs into the middle of that relationship would be a huge disruption to the economy.
One example of this can be seen in car manufacturing where factories on the Mexican side of the border are a primary source of parts such as carburetors and other items that go into cars ultimately built in the United States. The same is true of other automobile parts, and it isn’t all that dissimilar from the relationship that the United States has with Canada in this same respect. Increasing the price of those goods by 5%, or as high as 25% as the President plans to raise them if Mexico has not cooperated on immigration to his satisfaction. This is especially true since neither the President nor the Administration has given the slightest clue of what Mexico must do to satisfy them and no standard for judging if what Mexico is doing is succeeding or failing.
To be sure, for most of these Republicans the decision to speak out against the President this time is motivated mostly by there political survival instincts than anything else. These men and women are smart enough to know that this plan, such as it is, is economically stupid to an extent that surpasses all of the other tariff moves that this President has made since he became President in January 2017. This is especially true in states like Ted Cruz’s Texas, which has an economy that is heavily dependent on cross-border trade with its Mexican neighbor. Increasing the price of good from Mexico as the President proposes would have a tremendous impact on the economy of the Lone Star State and any other state with industries that depend on trade with Mexican companies, which in all honesty is pretty much all of them.