Two influential Republican senators from energy states said on Friday they were surprised by how quickly President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said the speed at which Trump imposed the tariffs suggests he may have been trying to prevent anyone from talking him out of the action, which has been widely opposed by his own party and the energy industry.
Trump on Thursday signed proclamations that will impose a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tax on aluminum. The president exempted Mexico and Canada from the taxes and said it would consider waivers for other countries.
Speaking at the CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference in Houston, Cornyn and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski warned the taxes could hold back investments in oil and gas infrastructure, alienate allies and water down the benefits of tax cuts and deregulation.
Cornyn connected Trump's attitude towards trade as president to the "populist impulses" that defined his campaign.
"I would hope that we would not treat every country with sort of a one size fits all like we see in this initial tariff on aluminum and steel," he said.
"We want free and fair trade, because that benefits our country, our workforce and our economy," Cornyn added. "I hope we can be a little more surgical in the approach."
Murkowski, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said the tariffs could impact plans to build out infrastructure that her state long has anticipated.
"This is a big deal up north," Murkowski said.
Murkowski said initial estimates suggest the tariffs could raise the cost of a proposed 800-mile pipeline, part of the $43 billion Alaska LNG Project, by hundreds of millions of dollars if not a half-billion dollars.
Murkowski said the tariffs send a confusing message to America's allies.
Asked whether Congress would consider introducing legislation to block the tariffs, Murkowski said a conversation has begun, noting that Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake will introduce a bill that would essentially nullify the import taxes.
"Now the discussion is how can we ensure — and when I say we, it's we in Congress — ensure that from a trade perspective we are moving forward, forward with our relationships with our friends and allies."
Cornyn said the Trump administration's rationale for the tariffs — that cheap imports threaten the nation's national security — establishes a slippery slope that could end in trade partners using the same argument to tax U.S. exports.
On the issue of NAFTA negotiations, Cornyn said he and others advised Trump not to issue a notice of termination, which would start unraveling the free trade deal with Canada and Mexico, after the president suggested the action in a meeting.
Cornyn warned that the "tremendous" benefits from scaling back regulations and passing GOP tax cuts could be negated by disruption to trade agreements.
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