'The president is proposing a massive tax increase': Conservatives tee off on Trump for tariff move

  • Free trade conservatives slam President Donald Trump's move to put tariffs on steel and aluminum.
  • GOP senators call the plan an unintended tax increase on Americans.
  • Trump, who ran on a protectionist platform that clashes with many Republicans, downplayed concerns about cost increases.

President Donald Trump's decision to impose stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports opened up another point of contention between the president and lawmakers in his party who typically support free trade.

The U.S. will institute tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent on imports of steel and aluminum, respectively, as early as next week, Trump said Thursday. It will apply the tariffs broadly, without targeting specific countries, and will not impose quotas.

Trump, who won the presidency as a Republican while pledging to scrap trade deals the GOP largely supports, argues the tariffs will help industries and workers "destroyed" by unfair trade practices. He told steel and aluminum executives that their industries will have "protection for the first time in a while."

Though Trump cast the move as a win for Americans, several Republican lawmakers quickly warned of possible cost increases for consumers and manufacturers. The reactions to Trump's decision further exposed one of the biggest divides between the president and the party that is nearly unified in backing him.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said "the president is proposing a massive tax increase on American families." In a statement, Sasse said he would not expect the policy from a "supposedly Republican" administration.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in a statement called the tariffs "a tax hike the American people don't need and can't afford." Hatch, who has been one of Trump's loudest champions in the Senate in recent months, urged the president to "consider all of the implications" of his move.

Conservative Trump backer Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., tweeted that "manufacturing will ultimately be the loser with these protectionist policies."

Other Republicans like Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said they advised Trump against the move, according to NBC News.

The Republican lawmakers echoed concerns brought up even before Trump announced the tariffs. Critics warned not only of cost increases but also of possible retaliatory moves from other countries.

As reports indicated Trump could move forward with tariffs, European Union and Chinese officials considered retaliating by targeting American products with political significance — like Harley-Davidson motorcycles from House Speaker Paul Ryan's home state of Wisconsin or bourbon from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's home state of Kentucky.

The tariff issue has pitted globalist elements of the White House, such as chief economic advisor Gary Cohn, against more protectionist voices, such as trade advisor Peter Navarro. Earlier Thursday, the White House delayed a planned tariff announcement amid infighting about the decision, only for Trump to divulge the plan during a meeting with steel and aluminum executives.

The chaos around the announcement Thursday reflects an ongoing disagreement between the Cohn wing and trade hawks such as Navarro, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Last month, the Commerce Department recommended putting heavy tariffs or quotas on foreign producers of the metals.

During the meeting Thursday, Cohn argued against the tariffs, saying they would raise the price of steel and aluminum products, a person in the room told CNBC.

Trump responded by calling it "a small price to pay."

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