Trump, Ryan face off in rare public GOP clash over tariffs

A welder fabricates a steel structure at an iron works facility in Ottawa, Ontario, Monday, March 5, 2018. President Donald Trump insisted Monday that he’s “not backing down” on his plan to impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum despite anxious warnings from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other congressional Republicans of a possible trade war. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a remarkably public confrontation, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican allies of President Donald Trump pleaded with him Monday to back away from his threatened international tariffs, which they fear could spark a dangerous trade war. Trump retorted: “We’re not backing down.”

The president said U.S. neighbors Canada and Mexico would not be spared from his plans for special import taxes on steel and aluminum, but he held out the possibility of later exempting the longstanding friends if they agree to better terms for the U.S. in talks aimed at revising the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We’ve had a very bad deal with Mexico; we’ve had a very bad deal with Canada. It’s called NAFTA,” he declared.

Trump spoke shortly after a spokeswoman for Ryan, a Trump ally, said the GOP leader was “extremely worried” that the proposed tariffs would set off a trade war and urged the White House “to not advance with this plan.”

Likewise, Republican leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee circulated a letter opposing Trump’s plan, and GOP congressional leaders suggested they may attempt to prevent the tariffs if the president moves forward.

Trump’s pledge to implement tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports has roiled financial markets, angered foreign allies and created unusual alliances for a president who blasted unfavorable trade deals during his 2016 campaign. Union leaders and Democratic lawmakers from Rust Belt states have praised the planned tariffs, joining with advocates within the administration including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro.

But the president has been opposed internally by Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, who warned against penalizing U.S. allies and undercutting the economic benefits of the president’s sweeping tax overhaul.

Likewise, the statement from Ryan’s office said, “The new tax reform law has boosted the economy, and we certainly don’t want to jeopardize those gains.”

Asked about that public rebuke, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Look, we have a great relationship with Speaker Ryan. We’re going to continue to have one, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.”

Canada is the United States’ No. 1 foreign supplier of both steel and aluminum. Mexico is the No. 4 supplier of steel and No. 7 for aluminum.

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