GOP Senators Relieved They Don’t Have to Fight Trump on Mexico Tariffs

‘The president used what I think was a very important tool to convince Mexico…’

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(Mark Niquette, Bloomberg News) Senate Republicans who faced the unwelcome prospect of attempting to overturn President Donald Trump’s use of tariffs on Mexico are praising his deal to avert them, even if they’re still wary of the duties.

Trump had threatened to impose 5% import duties on Mexican products starting Monday, with the levies set to rise each month to a potential peak of 25% in October if Mexico didn’t stem the flow of illegal migrants to the U.S. to the president’s satisfaction.

The tactic, seen as potentially crippling to the U.S. economy, generated rare opposition from Trump’s own party. There was even talk of a vote to curtail Trump’s power to levy tariffs that prompted the president to suggest senators don’t understand tariffs and they would be “foolish” to oppose him.

Crossing the president, whose popularity with Republican voters is very high, carries a definite risk for the party’s lawmakers, including facing primary challengers more aligned with Trump the next time they’re up for re-election.

But Trump called off the tariffs in a tweet late Friday that announced an agreement with Mexico on the border issues. Republicans who appeared on Sunday talk shows, including some who may have been prepared to formally oppose the duties, praised the president’s ability to get a deal.

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said that while Trump knew of his reluctance to use duties, he spoke to the president on Friday night and that the president was “appropriately pleased’’ with the agreement.

“I’m more of an ‘open-the-markets’ kind of guy rather than look for ways to close those markets,’’ Blunt said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Even though I’m not a big supporter of tariffs — he is — and his willingness to use that probably helped produce a result.’’

Trump had faced at least a possibility of Congress passing a resolution of disapproval to invalidate the emergency authority he would have invoked to justify the tariffs, despite questions about whether there would have been enough votes in both the House and Senate to override an expected veto.

White House Deputy Counsel Patrick Philbin was deployed to the Senate Republican lunch on June 4, where he faced strong opposition to Trump’s tariff plan, according to those present. “There is not much support in my conference,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after the lunch about the tariffs. “We’re hoping that doesn’t happen.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, had pledged to introduce a resolution if Trump moved ahead with the tariffs. Senator Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, has predicted that at least 20 Senate Republicans would oppose Trump on Mexico tariffs.

‘Tariff Weary’

“You’ve heard of people who are war weary,” Cramer said last week. “Senate Republicans are tariff weary.”

But now that Trump has called off the duties, Republicans are crediting his brinkmanship with getting Mexico to the table for negotiations, and to quickly agree to take action to stem the flow of immigrants crossing the U.S. border.

“The president used what I think was a very important tool to convince Mexico that securing their southern border and working with us is in all of our best interests,’’ Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina said on “Sunday Morning Futures” on Fox News.

Asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether Republicans were willing to stand up to Trump, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said they generally “understand that tariffs are attacks on American consumers” and indicated they “do not want tariffs long term” with Mexico. Now, they’re happy there’s a deal, he said.

‘Vote of Disapproval’

Earlier in the week, Johnson told reporters that “the administration ought to be concerned about another vote of disapproval on another national emergency act,” this time to set tariffs against Mexico. Congress previously voted to end Trump’s declaration used to divert money for a wall on the southern border, but the effort died in March when the House couldn’t override the veto.

It was a different tune on Sunday as Johnson said the Republican caucus “definitely supports the president and his use of tariffs as leverage to get our trading partners to treat us fairly with reciprocal treatment, and I think they also supported him in this case.”

Democrats didn’t join the cheerleading.

Former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said Trump had needlessly risked a trade war with an ally.

“By and large, the president achieved nothing except to jeopardize the most important trading relationship that the United States of America has,’’ O’Rourke said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, another 2020 candidate, said Trump is treating farmers who may have faced retaliatory tariffs from Mexico, as they already do from China, “like they’re poker chips, basically, at one of his bankrupt casinos.”

“He’s becoming the threatener-in-chief,” Klobuchar said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I think it’s wrong.” On Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Trump was making policy by “temper tantrum.”

The threat of Republicans opposing Trump on tariffs didn’t necessarily end with the Mexico deal. Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa is working on a separate bill to curtail Trump’s previous steel and aluminum tariffs that cited Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act.

Grassley, who before Friday’s deal called Trump’s threats of tariffs on Mexico “a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent,” nonetheless praised the agreement with “historic commitments” on Saturday.

“He delivered,” Grassley said of Trump on Twitter. “Mexico delivered.”

–With assistance from Erik Wasson, Daniel Flatley and Hailey Waller.

©2019 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.