The White House is poised for new battles with Congress over possible legislation targeting President Donald Trump’s tariff policy and a contentious Federal Reserve nominee.
Some key Republicans have joined Democrats in urging the president to drop his national security tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, with Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, saying recently he expects bipartisan compromise legislation “in the coming weeks” that would slap on time limits on the tariffs.
“The president is not in favor of that at the moment,” White House chief economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow said Wednesday when asked if Trump would support that kind of legislation.
“And he believes, as he conducts his trading relationships, he needs maximum [leverage] to bring home some deals,” Kudlow told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor-sponsored breakfast meeting.
Some lawmakers, including influential GOP members, want the president to drop the steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexico and Canada before the House and Senate vote on his proposed trade deal with those two U.S. neighbors. But, so far, Trump and his team are holding firm in resisting doing so.
Kudlow was upbeat about the likelihood of congressional approval of that proposed three-country pact, saying the administration is ready for both chambers to take up the deal “whenever [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi will give us a vote.”
Last week, the speaker said House Democrats want enforcement provisions to be included in the actual trade agreement, not just implementing documents.
On Tuesday, Pelosi said she is “inclined” to try and build upon the existing North American Free Trade Agreement, but she also laid out some concerns her caucus has about workers rights, environmental provisions and pharmaceuticals that she wants addressed before taking up the revised proposed agreement.
“The overarching concern that [Democrats] have is, even if you have the best language in the world in that, if you ain’t got enforcement, you ain’t got nothing,” Pelosi said.
The Democrats’ concerns and the tariffs have made Trump’s fight to win approval of the deal an increasingly uphill battle, and that is without even getting into the Canadian government’s frustrations.
“In order to move ahead with that deal, I think Canadians feel that the right thing is there should be no 232 tariffs or retaliatory measures between our countries. And that was what I expressed clearly to Ambassador Lighthizer,” Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland said last week.
At the same time Kudlow and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer are trying to convince members to replace NAFTA with Trump’s pact, other White House officials are trying to ensure Federal Reserve nominee Stephen Moore makes it through his Senate confirmation process.
Unflattering details of the pro-Trump political commentator’s personal life surfaced recently and some lawmakers and economists have questioned Moore’s qualifications; even the nominee has expressed surprise he was picked.
Kudlow shook his head Wednesday as he pinned Moore’s troubles on Washington being a “toxic town” and said the nomination is “all systems go.”
And as the administration scrambles on those two issues, Trump will travel Friday to the California-Mexico border as he mulls his threat to shutter ports of entry at the southern border.
That threat rankled some GOP lawmakers, as did his since-shelved call for them to develop a plan to replace the 2010 health law before tweeting that any votes would come after the 2020 election.
Trump has yet to make a decision about his threat to close ports of entry at the southern border, according to Kudlow, who again raised the possibility of keeping freight shipments moving between the United States and Mexico. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, is skeptical of the practicality of such a move to limit the economic hit of a closure.
“It may be possible. It’s a multi-lane highway kind of thing. You could figure out ways to do that. I’m not saying it’s easy,” Kudlow said as Republican lawmakers and pro-business groups like the Chamber sound alarms about the economic ramifications of closing the border ports. Some estimates say it could cost the U.S. economy $1 billion to $2 billion per day.
Neil Bradley, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told reporters Tuesday that a closure would be “destructive” for the American economy. He also said Trump’s threat, if implemented, would “undermine economic growth and prosperity,” and “provide little benefit in terms of security.”