Trump Reaffirms Commitment to Tariffs but Opens Door to Compromise
But a person close to the White House said that the president was itching to impose tariffs, and that Monday’s stock market rebound had reassured Mr. Trump that he was in the right.
“We’re not backing down,” the president said at the White House on Monday, as he reeled off a familiar litany about trade deals that he said had driven out factories and deprived American workers of jobs.
But Mr. Trump did open the door to a compromise, at least with Canada and Mexico, which are in negotiations with the United States to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement. If the two countries agree to a “new & fair” Nafta, they could be exempt from the tariffs, Mr. Trump said in a tweet on Monday morning.
The debate over tariffs has become a litmus test for Mr. Trump, putting his longstanding suspicion of free trade up against the equally fervent support for it among Republicans and members of his own administration.
Inside the White House, the debate has pitted hard-liners like Peter Navarro, the president’s trade adviser, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross against more pro-trade voices, like Mr. Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary D. Cohn, who argue that the measure could disrupt international alliances and global supply chains.
Republican lawmakers have criticized tariffs as undercutting the $1.5 trillion tax cut that they worked in lock step to pass last year, saying tariffs are essentially a tax increase that would slow economic growth. On Monday, they floated the idea of congressional action to try to block tariffs, should the president impose them.
Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, circulated a letter Monday expressing concern over the tariffs. Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, said he spent the weekend speaking with members of Congress and “senior administration officials” about his opposition to the president’s plan.