Kelly listens as Republican senators sound off on tariffs

Republicans on Capitol Hill are not happy with President Donald Trump’s plan to raise tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. And chief of staff John Kelly heard about it on Tuesday.

Eight Republican lawmakers met with Kelly on Tuesday morning for breakfast at the White House. The meeting was dominated by Trump’s decision to impose a 25% tariff on steel imports and 10% on aluminum, sources inside the room said, with multiple senators expressing their concern that the trade decisions would hurt businesses that use those products as well as consumers.

The meeting included Sens. Roy Blunt, John Boozman, Mike Enzi, Deb Fischer, David Perdue, Thom Tillis, Todd Young and John Thune, a White House official said. An aide to Tillis’ office said Wednesday he did not attend the meeting.

Trump, in a hastily-organized decision on Friday that looked to make good on his 2016 campaign promises, announced that he would impose the new sanctions in an effort to revitalize the American steel and aluminum industries. The decision caused a marked split inside the White House, pitting National Economic Council director Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin against the proponents of protectionist trade policies, namely Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and trade adviser Peter Navarro.

The split has sent some Republicans scrambling.

Since the announcement, the Trump administration has waffled on whether certain countries or companies would receive exemptions from the new tariffs, leaving some to question whether Trump plans to follow through on his promise.

House Speaker Paul Ryan urged Trump in his weekly press conference to take a “more surgical approach so we do not have unintended consequences” with tariffs. And House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady has encouraged Trump to tailor the tariffs.

One Republican senator in the breakfast described it as a full discussion on a number of topics, but said it was “mainly” on trade.

“It’s kind of front and center right now,” the member noted.

The senator couldn’t say if there was any indication of whether Trump would change his mind.

Young, an Indiana Republican, said after that meeting he “reiterated to General Kelly the need for a targeted, balanced approach to protect Hoosier jobs from countries like China that are violating international trade rules.”

“The President is right to address unfair trade practices, but I am hopeful that the measures imposed will be balanced and implement a targeted approach that reflects the degree to which individual countries have violated international rules and thereby protect essential global supply chains with key US allies,” Young said.

Thune told reporters on Monday that he is looking to convince Trump not to go through with the trade actions.

“First and foremost there is going to be an attempt to try to convince the President that he’s headed down the wrong track, and hopefully get him to a point where he’ll reconsider that decision,” Thune said.

He added, “I know there’s a lot of fairly strong concerns that this could really put at risk and in jeopardy much of the economic progress that we’ve seen in the last year as a result of the rollback in regulations and tax reform and a lot of other things. The economy is in a good place.”

Trump, during a bilateral news conference with the prime minister of Sweden, said Tuesday that any tariffs imposed would be done in a “very loving way.”

“The United States,” Trump said, “has been taken advantage of by other countries, both friendly and not so friendly.”