WASHINGTON — Republican senators sent the White House a sharp message on Tuesday, warning that they were almost uniformly opposed to President Trump's plans to impose tariffs on Mexican imports, just hours after the president said lawmakers would be "foolish" to try to stop him.
Mr. Trump's latest threat to impose 5 percent tariffs on all goods imported from Mexico, rising to as high as 25 percent until the Mexican government stems the flow of migrants, has prompted some of the most serious defiance in the Republican ranks since the president took office.
Republican senators emerged from a closed-door lunch at the Capitol angered by the briefing they received from a deputy White House counsel and an assistant attorney general on the legal basis for Mr. Trump to impose new tariffs by declaring a national emergency at the southern border.
"I want you to take a message back" to the White House, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, told the lawyers, according to people familiar with the meeting. Mr. Cruz warned that "you didn't hear a single yes" from the Republican conference. He called the proposed tariffs a $30 billion tax increase on Texans."I will yield to nobody in passion and seriousness and commitment for securing the border," Mr. Cruz later told reporters. "But there's no reason for Texas farmers and ranchers and manufacturers and small businesses to pay the price of massive new taxes."
The president's latest foray into a global trade war has troubled economists and roiled stock and bond markets. The Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome H. Powell, hinted on Tuesday that the central bank could cut interest rates if the trade war started to hurt the economy. The remarks sent stocks higher for their strongest day in months.
But senators were mindful of the long-term stakes for their home states.
Texas would be hit the hardest by the proposed tariffs on Mexican products, followed by Michigan, California, Illinois and Ohio, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A 25 percent tariff would threaten $26.75 billion of Texas imports."We're holding a gun to our own heads," said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.
If Mr. Trump were to declare an emergency to impose the tariffs, the House and the Senate could pass a resolution disapproving them. But such a resolution would almost certainly face a presidential veto, meaning that both the House and the Senate would have to muster two-thirds majorities to beat Mr. Trump.
Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said he warned the lawyers that the Senate could muster an overwhelming majority to beat back the tariffs, even if Mr. Trump were to veto a resolution disapproving them. Republicans may be broadly supportive of Mr. Trump's push to build a wall and secure the border, he said, but they oppose tying immigration policy to the imposition of tariffs on Mexico.
"The White House should be concerned about what that vote would result in, because Republicans really don't like taxing American consumers and businesses," Mr. Johnson said.Mr. Trump, just hours before at a news conference in London with the British prime minister, Theresa May, said he planned to move forward with imposing tariffs on Mexican imports next week as part of his effort to stem the flow of migrants crossing the southern border.
"I think it's more likely that the tariffs go on, and we'll probably be talking during the time that the tariffs are on, and they're going to be paid," Mr. Trump said. When asked about Senate Republicans discussing ways to block the tariffs, Mr. Trump said, "I don't think they will do that."
He said, "I think if they do, it's foolish."
Republicans are still holding out hope that the tariffs can be avoided. Mexico's foreign minister is leading a delegation to Washington this week to try to defuse the situation with the Trump administration. A White House meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday could prove pivotal.
"There is not much support for tariffs in my conference, that's for sure," said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader. "Our hope is that the tariffs will be avoided, and we will not have to answer any hypotheticals."Leaving the lunch, lawmakers complained they were facing too many such hypotheticals. Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, asked the lawyers what the precedent for imposing tariffs through an emergency declaration would be. His question was left unanswered. In fact, since the National Emergencies Act was signed in 1976, it has never been used to impose tariffs on a single country.
Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said he "would not be inclined to vote on a tariff against a friend," but ventured that "what you're likely to see is the Mexican government and our government finding some way to work on this collaboratively and not reach a tariff."Others were less convinced.
"He's committed to this," said Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, who spoke with Mr. Trump on Sunday and was sure the president would proceed with the tariffs, regardless of the concerns. "He's serious as four heart attacks and a stroke. He's moving forward."Opponents of the tariffs would use the same motion of disapproval that they tried to use to block the president from grabbing federal money for a border wall that was not appropriated for that purpose. That motion did pass Congress with significant Republican support, but not enough to overcome Mr. Trump's veto.
Mr. Johnson warned White House officials that they should not count on a veto override vote going the same way. But Mr. Trump has supporters, and Republicans, especially in the House, have been loath to oppose him on immigration. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, once a moderate on immigration policy, took to Twitter to say the president was within his rights to use tariffs to force Mexico's hand.
Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota, expressed support for the president, as did Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who is up for re-election in 2020 and faced blistering criticism after flip-flopping this year on whether he would vote to disapprove the president's emergency declaration to build the wall."I think Mexico could help us solve the crisis down at the border," Mr. Tillis told reporters. "What's the tax on handling 80,000 additional illegal immigrants coming across the border, housing them, adjudicating them? You've got to look at the total cost of the prices."
If a revolt comes to pass, it would start in the Senate, but House Republicans would have to join the effort to overturn a veto.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, declined to forecast whether the House would try to block the tariffs on Mexico.
"The administration's tariff policy is erratic and all over the place," he said. "We will see what the Senate Republicans ultimately decide to do, but we will certainly strongly consider proceeding in a way that is appropriate and consistent with our legislative powers."Mr. Trump seemed unimpressed when a reporter noted that Mexican officials said that they had increased the number of migrants they had apprehended coming into their country from elsewhere in Central America. He offered no specifics on what it would take to keep the tariffs from being imposed.
"Look, millions of people are flowing through Mexico," Mr. Trump said. "That's unacceptable."
New York Times, June 4, 2019
Voices4America Post Script. A true GOP split from the #BeastInTheWhiteHouse? Who knows! I have always thought the GOP will move from Trump only if his actions threaten their power. Repubs now fear Dems will take back the Senate and the Presidency! We will. #BlueWave2020