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Ryan, McConnell Hit Back at Tariff Announcement and 'Unintended Consequences'

President Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House on March 8, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — President Trump said Canada, the top source of imported steel in the U.S., and Mexico will be initially exempt from his new tariffs as long as the North American Free Trade Agreement is being renegotiated,

“If we don’t make the deal on NAFTA, and if we terminate NAFTA because they’re unable to make a deal that’s fair for our workers and fair for our farmers — we love our farmers — and fair for our manufacturers, then we’re going to terminate NAFTA and we’ll start all over again or we’ll just do it a different way. But we’ll terminate NAFTA and that’ll be it,” Trump said at a White House event with steel workers and administration officials.

“But I have a feeling we’re going to make a deal on NAFTA. I’ve been saying it for a long time,” he said. “We either make a deal or we terminate. And if we do, there won’t be any tariffs on Canada, and there won’t be any tariffs on Mexico.

Trump noted that “some of the countries that we’re dealing with are great partners, great military allies, and we’re going to be looking at that very strongly.”

Trump instituted the 25 percent steel and 10 percent aluminum tariffs, despite protests from Republicans in Congress, using a national security provision. “The tariffs don’t go effective [sic] for at least another 15 days,” the president said.

“A strong steel and aluminum industry are vital to our national security. Absolutely vital. Steel is steel. You don’t have steel. You don’t have a country,” he said. “…This is not merely an economic disaster, but it’s a security disaster. We want to build our ships, we want to build our planes, we want to build our military equipment with steel, with aluminum from our country. And now we’re finally taking action to correct this long-overdue problem. It’s a travesty.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) quickly issued a statement saying he disagrees with Trump’s action and fears “its unintended consequences.”

A Council on Foreign Relations study estimated that the tariffs could result in the loss of 45,000 auto industry jobs by 2019.

“I am pleased that the president has listened to those who share my concerns and included an exemption for some American allies, but it should go further. We will continue to urge the administration to narrow this policy so that it is focused only on those countries and practices that violate trade law,” Ryan said. “There are unquestionably bad trade practices by nations like China, but the better approach is targeted enforcement against those practices. Our economy and our national security are strengthened by fostering free trade with our allies and promoting the rule of law.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that lawmakers in the upper chamber “are concerned about the scope of the proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum and their impact on American citizens and businesses,” though he was “pleased to see that the administration today made accommodations for some of our trading partners and allies.”

“However, important questions remain about whether ultimately these tariffs will be sufficiently targeted, tailored and limited,” McConnell added.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) noted that “no one can doubt that China has created massive overcapacity in steel and aluminum production that distorts world markets and depresses steel and aluminum prices,” but “the ham-handed rollout and contradictory statements that preceded today’s announcement raise serious questions about whether this action will produce the intended results.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), though, was happy about Trump’s tariffs. “We have played by the rules and what has it gotten us – half a trillion dollar trade deficits and good paying jobs exported to foreign countries,” he said. “It’s past time to defend our interests, our security and our workers in the global economy and that is exactly what the president is proposing with these tariffs. I believe our allies and our trading partners will understand that the president cannot stay silent any longer, he must give this country and West Virginia workers a fighting chance.”

At a cabinet meeting earlier in the day, Trump needled departing economic adviser Gary Cohn as someone “not quite as strong on those tariffs as we want.”

“He may be globalist, but I still like him,” Trump quipped. “He is seriously a globalist. There’s no question. But you know what? In his own way, he’s a nationalist, because he loves our country. And where is Gary? You love our country.”

“And he’s going to go out and make another couple of hundred million, and then he’s going to maybe come back. You may come back, right? We’ll be here.”