President Donald Trump will arrive Friday at a G-7 meeting in Canada, with no specific goals for the summit and under fire from Republican lawmakers and the very world leaders with whom he will spend the weekend.
The U.S. leader’s steel and aluminum tariffs have upset other heads of state and caused many to retaliate with their own proposed fees on U.S. goods such as bourbon and cheese. Among the agitated leaders are those from G-7 countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom. But before the president hears new pleas from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Prime Minister Theresa May to drop the tariffs, he is getting an earful from members of his own party.
“There is a growing frustration in the House about the impact of these [steel and aluminum] tariffs back home and the need for a much stronger partnership with the administration on the strategy, on the exemptions — especially for our key trading partners like Canada, Mexico and Europe,” House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said Wednesday.
And when it comes to working with the White House to obtain exclusions for specific products, the influential Texas Republican — who often talks to Trump and has been publicly praised by him — said this: “No one is satisfied with [that], frankly.” He added that he expects the administration to address the concerns of members of both parties.
Watch: Ryan — Reining In Tariffs Requires Passing a Bill the President Would Sign Into Law
While Republicans have, at times, criticized Trump for some of his actions, words and tweets, they have so far not moved legislation in response. That soon could change. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker led a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday in introducing a measure that would curtail executive branch authority on certain trade actions.
Specifically, the legislation would provide a 60-day period of expedited congressional consideration for reviewing such declarations. It also would provide a two-year look-back period.
In a sign the White House is feeling the heat on the matter, Trump even unsuccessfully appealed directly to Corker to drop the legislation.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, powerful in Republican circles, broke with Trump and endorsed Corker’s proposal.
“This emerging trade war endangers the remarkable economic progress we’ve seen in the past year,” Neil Bradley, the chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer, said in a statement. “The Constitutional authority of the Congress to ‘regulate foreign trade’ and its oversight of tariff policy is unambiguous. This modest proposal to clarify congressional prerogatives is welcome and long overdue.”
And it’s not just Republican lawmakers and business groups.
Conservative political groups are also targeting Trump’s trade agenda with multimillion-dollar ad campaigns and direct outreach to the White House. Three such organizations — including one founded by the influential Koch brothers — urged the president to press his G-7 counterparts on the “importance of trade to improving the economies and the lives of citizens in all our countries.” But in a sign of the strain the tariffs have caused in GOP circles, the groups also used the letter to “strongly encourage” Trump “to rescind all tariffs on steel and aluminum among our nation’s trading partners.”
But Larry Kudlow, Trump’s chief economic adviser, just shook his head when asked Wednesday to spell out the White House’s goals for the G-7 summit.
“We’ll see what comes of it. We’ll have all these discussions,” he said. “For these kinds of decisions, let them meet first.”
A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for a reaction to Brady’s critical assessment. But Kudlow described the tariffs as necessary to give the U.S. and global economies a jolt, as well as to “protect the United States and its workforce.”
“This is about reducing tariff rates and non-tariff barriers, not China buying a bunch of soybeans from America,” the former Reagan aide and CNBC host said Wednesday. “If you lower those, and commit to increase U.S. export sales, then the trade debt will probably fall.” In the short run, though, that might not be of much comfort for states that export soybeans, many of them Republican-friendly places like Iowa.
In a briefing to preview the summit, Kudlow gave no indication that the president is leaning toward providing tariff relief to any of the country’s closest allies. Instead, he signaled that Trump’s message to his counterparts will be to push them toward the kinds of policies he has pursued since taking office.
He called Trump the “strongest trade reformer of the last, probably, 20 years,” adding that actions like the tariffs should help “open” economic growth at home and abroad.
“I think the policies are working,” Kudlow said. “And our great hope is our friends at the G-7 will work with us.”
The top White House economic aide repeated his comments from last Friday that the tariff tiff with Canada, the European Union and Mexico was a “family quarrel,” saying “We’re talking everything through” and “I believe it can be worked out.”
But that doesn’t mean the country others long expected to solve disputes won’t find itself isolated at the meeting in Quebec.
“This particular G-7 leaders summit is one which is probably going to be characterized by an environment of a G-6 plus 1,” said Stephanie Segal of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The United States, in a dramatic shift, likely will be the one.
“On the economic issues, trade is going to be kind of first and foremost discussed. And that is going to be a pretty tough environment for the United States,” she said, adding that there is confusion around the globe about whether longtime free traders in the Trump administration have more sway with the president as opposed to hard-line protectionists.
“The default then for the other G-7 countries is to then act in their own national interest,” Segal said. “And it doesn’t help that a lot of them, to the extent they might be seen as giving into the Trump administration … that’s very unpopular at home for many of these leaders.”
But like other senior White House officials, Kudlow shrugged off the notion that Trump is responsible for what experts and lawmakers warn is a threat to the post-World War II economic order and the brink of a global trade conflict.
“Don’t blame Trump,” he said. “Blame the countries that have broken away from those conditions.”
Ellyn Ferguson and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.