Republicans are bitterly protesting the Trump administration’s decision to impose sweeping tariffs on U.S. allies — alarmed that the White House ignored their frenzied lobbying campaign and afraid that the party could suffer at the polls in November.
The GOP’s free-traders were mollified this spring as the Trump administration exempted U.S. allies from steel and aluminum tariffs imposed on other countries like China. But on Thursday, that all changed as President Donald Trump imposed 10 percent tariffs on aluminum imports and 25 percent tariffs on steel imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico.
The move thrusts the GOP back into an internecine war over free-trade policies that have defined the party for decades, just as Republicans mobilize for a hotly contested midterm campaign.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) called it “bad news” and predicted imminent retaliation from the key U.S. allies. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said there is “mounting evidence that these tariffs will harm Americans.” And Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) warned that similar policies 90 years ago sparked the Great Depression.
“This is dumb. Europe, Canada, and Mexico are not China, and you don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents,” Sasse said. “‘Make America Great Again’ shouldn’t mean ‘Make America 1929 Again.'”
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker called the move an “abuse of authority only intended for national security purposes.”
“This is a big mistake. These tariffs will raise prices and destroy manufacturing jobs, especially auto jobs, which are one-third of all Tennessee manufacturing jobs,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who said tariffs are “basically higher taxes on American consumers.”
Most Republicans believed that the Trump administration’s tariffs on aluminum and steel would be relegated to China and that exemptions for allies would continue into the summer. So Congress was largely blindsided by the administration’s reversal.