US Senate not likely to undo steel, aluminium tariffs, says Mitch McConnell

McConnell (centre) and Majority Whip John Cornyn (left) leave a news conference at the US Capitol, March 13, 2018.
McConnell (centre) and Majority Whip John Cornyn (left) leave a news conference at the US Capitol, March 13, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday (March 13) that it is “highly unlikely” the Senate will take up legislation to undo President Donald Trump’s steel and aluminium tariffs.

But he said Republican lawmakers remain concerned about the steep levies and continue to press the administration to narrow their scope.

“The thought that the President would sign a Bill that would undo actions he’s taken strikes me as remote at best, and I like to use floor time in the Senate for things that actually have a chance to become law,” McConnell, told reporters at his weekly news conference in the Capitol.

“So I think it’s highly unlikely we’d be dealing with that in a legislative way.”

The tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on imported aluminum provoked an outcry from GOP lawmakers when Trump announced them with almost no warning earlier this month. He ultimately exempted Canada and Mexico, at least for now, when he finalised the tariffs last week, and Republican lawmakers are continuing to push for additional exemptions for specialty industries or products.

Republican Senator Jeff Flake has introduced legislation to nullify the tariffs, but he’s among few lawmakers who have shown an appetite to challenge Trump on the issue legislatively. Flake is a Trump critic who is retiring from Congress.

Others have pointed out that any legislation against the tariffs would face steep hurdles. Democratic votes would be needed to pass such legislation through the Senate, and a majority of 67 votes would need to be assembled to override the veto.

And even though the tariffs have provoked louder opposition from fellow Republicans than anything else Trump has done in office, the political reality is that few incumbent GOP lawmakers are eager to tangle publicly with the President.

“I just think it could be very difficult for it to pass, and I know the president wouldn’t sign it,” said Republican Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Agriculture Committee and one of the most outspoken opponents of the tariffs because of the potential for retaliation on agricultural products.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson said he has spoken with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to make the case for relief for industries in Wisconsin that use imported steel in their products.

"In my conversation with him, he’s certainly aware of the challenges to steel-using industries like we have in Wisconsin, and they’re going to do everything they can to try and mitigate the unintended consequences of those,” Johnson said.