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.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Economics and Business, International Trade, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.


  1. Kylopod says:

    Ironically, if Republicans end up blocking the tariffs, they’ll be doing Trump a great favor, even if he doesn’t see it that way.

  2. Kit says:

    people from Central America coming to the United States to seek insomnia

    That was my first good laugh of the day!

  3. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    It’s instructive that obstruction, corruption, and foreign interference in our politics doesn’t bother Congressional Republicans, but as soon as Trump does something to interfere with corporate profits they are outraged.

    It was a nice country, while we had it.

  4. @Kit:

    I have no idea how that typo got in there. Fixed.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Republican Senators Standing Up To Trump On Mexico Tariffs

    Doug? This headline is all wrong, it should read “Republican Senators Barking at trump Over Mexico Tariffs, Still No Bite”.

  6. Mister Bluster says:


    All production vehicles today use computerized fuel injection systems to feed fuel and air into the combustion chamber of the engine. Computer controls allow the engine to operate at peak efficiency in all situations, and allow the vehicle to start right up, even on cold days. Some automotive enthusiasts may be familiar with motorcycles, which are one of the last holdouts of the factory production carburetors today. In order to get a bike started on a cold day, you have to pull out the choke. After that, you have to let the engine warm up. Otherwise, it simply won’t run right.
    Do Cars Still Have Carburetors?
    Gili’s Automotive

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mister Bluster: That gave me a chuckle too and I almost commented on it but after thinking about it thought it a little too nit picky because I suspect carburetors are still being manufactured for the used car market, tho I do wonder how much longer that might be for.

  8. Kathy says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    That’s not all bad. If we portray tariffs as tax raises on consumers and corporations, that might lead to a backlash.

  9. HankP says:

    They are not going to override a veto in the Senate and neither are Republicans in the House, on this or anything else. It’s the party of trump now, any Republicans that don’t like it can either switch parties or retire. They won’t even be criticizing him once the 2020 campaign begins in earnest.

  10. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    Even Harley’s…based on ancient technology…are fuel injected today. There may be some outliers still using carbs…but not many.

  11. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:


    I don’t know for sure, but it would make sense to use them in very small engines, as in lawn mowers or chainsaws. It would be far cheaper than fuel injection systems.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy: Small engines still use carburetors.

  13. Kathy says:

    Speaking of tariffs, here’s a rather long piece on Reason about the trade war.

    Notable takeaway:

    If Trump follows through with his threats to hit all Mexican imports with a 5 percent tariff, the overall cost of the trade war will exceed the cost of the 1993 tax hikes signed by then-President Bill Clinton, when measured as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). If he escalates things further and hits all Chinese and Mexican imports with 25 percent tariffs—which he has threatened to do—it would be the biggest tax increase on Americans since the Lyndon B. Johnson administration.

    If you thought “tax and spend” was bad, wait until you see what “tax and cut spending” looks like.

  14. Ken_L says:

    I still think this is nothing but his latest bit of chest-beating to impress the cult, like his threat to close the border, which was even stupider. To judge from comments at places like Breitbart, it’s worked a treat.

    Watch for Pence and Pompeo to report great progress in their talks with the Mexicans, following which Trump will grudgingly agree to ‘defer’ his tariffs.

  15. gVOR08 says:

    Pissing off our allies, kowtowing to Putin, allowing AGW to continue, separating families and allowing children to die, lying about everything every day, accepting bribes, praising fascists; it’s all fun and games until somebody’s corporate sponsors might take a hit.

  16. Matt says:

    @Mister Bluster: They are still used extensively in the aftermarket performance car markets. Your link is a bit excessively critical of carbs in general. My modified early 70s “muscle” car would start up during sub zero ambient air days with just a few pumps of the gas prior to turning the key. The knowledge of how to setup a carb properly is not something many have and makes all the difference.

    Basically EFI systems are complicated and costly to setup in comparison to carbs. Hell Nascar only made the switch to EFI in 2012.

  17. gVOR08 says:

    Carburetors may have been an in-artful choice, but to replace carburetors modern cars need fuel injectors, fuel manifolds, throttle bodies, sensors, high pressure fuel pumps, high pressure lines and fittings, computer chips, and gawd knows what else. Their components may come from anywhere, Mexico, Canada, Japan, China, Germany, anywhere. And the components may be combined into subassemblies anywhere and shipped anywhere to make next higher level assemblies, which get shipped all over to eventually be screwed, or snapped, into cars. And it’s all done with ‘just in time’ inventory, with minimal stock on hand. The part being screwed in now may have come in the door this morning. Impossible without computers and the internet and dependent on trucks, ships, and airplanes arriving when they’re supposed to. And Trump understands none of this and wants to throw a huge wrench into the works.

  18. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08: You can sing the praises of carburetors and old cars all you want but when was the last time you walked through a supermarket on a cold wintry morning and heard half a dozen cars doing this?

  19. al Ameda says:

    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.

    You will have to pardon me for thinking that this is shaping up to be ‘Jeff Flake/Rob Corker Moment’ for a much larger group of Republican senators.

    You know the M.O. a show of opposition to the president, some tough words, then surrender.

  20. Matt says:

    @MarkedMan: I’ve never heard half a dozen cars attempting to start without fuel ever. Maybe because I didn’t live in a huge city and I wasn’t around in the 50s. Just a FYI for those that don’t know you’re not supposed to crank the engine over for that long for a variety of reasons.

    Carbs aren’t magical or amazing or even a good idea for the common people which is why EFI despite being more complicated and more expensive took off so well. Anyone who has worked in any form of customer/tech support has tons of stories of people being outright dumb with mechanical and/or technological stuff. Getting people to pump the gas peddle properly to set the choke and stuff is just an act in futility. God knows the majority of car owners don’t maintain their cars properly.

    Yes I’m blaming user error for the majority of the problems encountered with carbs.