More than 100 Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Mr. Trump on Wednesday imploring him to drop plans for the tariffs, which would upend years of free-trade orthodoxy among party leaders in Washington and potentially prompt retaliation and a wider trade war with other countries. Their letter came a day after Mr. Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary D. Cohn, announced his resignation after his failure to forestall the president from pursuing tariffs.
“We urge you to reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences,” the Republican lawmakers said in their letter.
Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican who represents the Midwestern industrial state of Wisconsin, which was key to Mr. Trump’s Electoral College victory in 2016, said a broad tariff plan would be self-destructive.
“If it’s targeted toward China, depending on how it’s tailored, I may not have a problem with it, because that’s where the root cause of the problem is, the gross oversupply within China,” Mr. Johnson said on CNN on Thursday. “But a generalized tariff that would actually harm allies, harm American consumers, by the way, harm American workers that use steel in production, hurting their competitive nature in global markets as well, I’m opposed to that.”
Mr. Trump has brushed off the opposition, arguing that American industries are being treated unfairly by foreign competitors and need help to protect jobs. He told reporters last week that he planned to impose tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on foreign aluminum.
“As a candidate, as the president, he’s been incredibly consistent in looking at all of this through the lens of a worker,” Kellyanne Conway, his counselor, told Fox News on Thursday. “He believes this country has been on the losing side of trade deals for decades,” she added. “He wants fair, reciprocal trade deals that stop screwing the American worker and American industries.”
She argued that the Republican lawmakers did not object entirely to tariffs but instead wanted to ensure that they are tailored “so that we can continue to sell American made goods around the world and be able to hire more American workers. The president agrees with that.”
At the cabinet meeting, Mr. Trump thanked Mr. Cohn for his service and suggested that he might return to the administration. “I have a feeling you’ll be back,” the president told him. Then, in a teasing voice, he added: “I don’t know if I can put him in the same position though. He’s not quite as strong on those tariffs.”