Trump Tariffs on Mexico Irk Key Republican Allies in Congress

Erik Wasson and Steven T. Dennis
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Trump Tariffs on Mexico Irk Key Republican Allies in Congress

(Bloomberg) -- Key Senate Republicans are pushing back against President Donald Trump’s threat to impose new tariffs on Mexico to stem the flow of migrants, though it’s unclear whether lawmakers will take action.

The president’s announcement Thursday surprised many Republicans who hoped to focus on passing a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada known as the USMCA. That deal now faces fresh peril, a number of GOP senators said Friday.

Trump said he will impose a 5% tariff on all imports from Mexico -- ramping up 5 percentage points every month until hitting 25% in October -- unless Mexico takes "decisive measures" to stem migrants entering the U.S.

Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders, was the rare Republican senator to applaud the move by mid-afternoon Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was noncommittal in his own statement, saying the proposal "deserves serious examination."

But many others opposed the move, including Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, whose powerful panel holds the keys to trade, tax, health and entitlement legislation.

‘Misuse’ of Authority

"This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent," Grassley said in a statement. "Following through on this threat would seriously jeopardize passage of USMCA, a central campaign pledge of President Trump’s and what could be a big victory for the country."

Grassley of Iowa had led the successful campaign to get Trump to end earlier tariffs on Mexican and Canadian steel and aluminum imports, using the threat of holding up the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Grassley wasn’t notified in advance of Trump’s announcement of the new tariffs, said the senator’s spokesman, Michael Zona.

The House Ways and Means Committee’s top Republican, Kevin Brady of Texas, called for a resolution between the U.S. and Mexico to head off the tariffs.

Joining Grassley in opposition to the tariffs were pro-trade Senate Republicans Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Martha McSally of Arizona, John Cornyn of Texas, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Rob Portman of Ohio, whose votes Trump will need to pass the USMCA.

The border states of Texas and Arizona would be particularly hard hit by the tariffs, according to an economic analysis by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which denounced Trump’s move.

‘Tax Hikes’

Portman, a former U.S. trade representative, said on Twitter that he is "concerned that the Admin’s announcement last night of potential new tariffs on #Mexico over matters unrelated to trade will hurt our economy & jeopardize passage of #USMCA."

Toomey said in a statement that Trump’s use of “tax hikes on Americans" in an effort to force change in Mexican policy was "misguided." He added, "It is past time for Congress to step up and reassert its constitutional responsibility on tariffs."

Toomey is the author of a bipartisan bill aimed at curtailing Trump’s ability to impose tariffs without congressional approval. Still, that bill wouldn’t affect the emergency statute that Trump is using for the first time to impose tariffs.

Grassley said earlier this month he was working to refine Toomey’s proposal for a possible committee vote. Trump’s new tariffs could add impetus to that effort, though efforts to curtail the president’s tariff authority failed in the previous Congress.

Democrats’ Message

Senior Democrats said Friday that Trump’s actions were evidence of erratic behavior.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Trump "is sowing chaos over the border instead of delivering solutions for American workers and for American consumers.”

"The president is taking aim at immigration policy but missing it completely;instead, he is hitting American workers and consumers," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democratic senator, said Trump was acting out of frustration and was poised to hurt farmers and workers who would face Mexican trade retaliation.

"How much more can our nation take from this ‘stable genius’?" Durbin asked.

--With assistance from Laura Davison.

To contact the reporters on this story: Erik Wasson in Washington at ewasson@bloomberg.net;Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo, Max Berley

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