Gary Cohn is leading a last-ditch effort against President Donald Trump’s plan to put modest tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.
Cohn is attempting to organize a “summit” of business leaders opposed to the tariffs, according to a person familiar with the matter. Executives at companies that use the metals to build their products, including automakers and other manufacturing companies, have expressed a desire to meet with Trump to head off the tariffs.
Trump, however, is standing by his call for the tariffs. On Monday, the president said “we’re not backing down” on the plan to put a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum.
Trump’s tariffs announcement last week was a major setback for Cohn, who Trump refers to as “globalist Gary” in private conversations. Cohn has fought tariff plans for months, combating administration officials such as trade adviser Peter Navarro and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross who think the U.S. must do more to protect its economy from predatory policies of foreign countries, particularly China.
But those internal battles took on even more urgency and became more heated in recent weeks after the Commerce Department published the findings of its Section 232 investigations. Those probes found that foreign imports of steel and aluminum were such a burden on domestic producers of the metals that they are creating a threat to national security. It recommended a variety of trade sanctions to protect the ability of the U.S. to maintain domestic steel and aluminum production.
Cohn no longer believes it is possible to stop the tariffs altogether, one person familiar with the matter told Breitbart News. Now efforts are aimed at narrowing the scope of the tariffs, focusing them more closely on “bad actors” such as China.
Similar efforts are underway on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday that he would urge the president to adopt a “more surgical” approach to tariffs and to specifically address China and other abusers of global trade rules.
Many conservatives and Republicans remain wedded to a very ideological view of global trade and have knee-jerk reactions to proposals to restrict trade or impose sanctions, even when those may be necessary for national security. Club for Growth, a conservative pro-free market group, has warned that tariffs will hurt the economy. Sen. Mike Lee, the Utah Republican, is pushing a bill to limit the president’s ability to impose tariffs.
Republican presidential primary voters in 2015 rejected nearly a score of candidates who held pro-free trade views, favoring the economic nationalist policies advocated by Donald Trump. Proponents of the tariffs point out that failing to live up Trump’s promises on trade would hurt the Republican party in the midterm elections and possibly endanger Trump’s chances of being re-elected in 2020.