When Trump has veered left on immigration and told either Democratic leaders or bipartisan groups of lawmakers that he’d back a simple deal to give the so-called Dreamers a path to citizenship, conservatives on Capitol Hill—along with hardliners like Stephen Miller in the White House—have persuaded him to back off and insist on a tougher stance instead.
After the president flirted last week with strict gun-control policies, National Rifle Association lobbyists swooped in to set him straight, and GOP leaders backed them up by putting off quick votes on tighter gun restrictions.
But top Republicans may have met their match when it comes to trade—an issue that has animated Trump’s politics for three decades. Last week, he declared that he would unilaterally impose steep tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum as soon as his administration could get him the papers to sign. The hastily arranged announcement horrified the veteran free-traders who lead the GOP in Congress: not only House Speaker Paul Ryan, but also the chairmen of the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over trade, Kevin Brady of Texas and Orrin Hatch of Utah, respectively. Trump has rebuffed the efforts by Republican lawmakers and some of his own advisers to slow his drive for tariffs, and GOP leaders appear to lack either the will or the votes in Congress to block him legislatively.
“We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan,” AshLee Strong, the speaker’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “The new tax-reform law has boosted the economy and we certainly don’t want to jeopardize those gains.” Strong sent reporters an article blaming a dip in the stock market—whose previous gains Trump championed—on investor jitters over the president’s directive. Brady spent the weekend in Mexico and on television urging the president to narrow the tariffs, and on Monday, his office said he was gathering Republican signatures for a letter of concern to the president.
Congress could stop Trump from imposing the tariffs tomorrow if it wanted to. The Constitution gives the legislative branch explicit authority “to regulate commerce with foreign nations.” And just last month, on a 400 to 2 vote, the House passed legislation that extends for three years a program that reduces various tariffs for businesses.