Trump’s top Georgia ally urging him to change course on tariffs

Credit: Isaac Sabetai

Credit: Isaac Sabetai

Some of Georgia’s top Republican lawmakers are pushing back against Donald Trump’s proposal to impose steep tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum, including one of the president’s most prominent backers in the state.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said he met privately with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Tuesday morning to urge the administration to adopt “a more targeted approach” to the tariffs.

“The president’s instincts are right that we need access in these markets,” Perdue told reporters in the afternoon. “But (tariffs) need to be very targeted.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, have scrambled in recent days to convince Trump to change course on the proposed tariffs. They argue the previously announced 25 percent tax on foreign steel and 10 percent tax on aluminum could prompt trade wars and negate the economic effects of the party's recently-passed tax overhaul.

“What we are encouraging the administration to do is to focus on what is clearly a legitimate problem and to be more surgical in its approach, so we can go after the true abusers without creating any kind of unintended consequences or collateral damage,” Ryan, R-Wis., said Tuesday morning.

Perdue said he told Kelly that the White House should first let the economy “breathe a little while” to let the effects of the tax overhaul take hold, and to then focus on targeting individual countries or specific steel and aluminum products rather than the current approach.

“To say that we’re going to do something broad like that could be problematic,” he said.

Perdue’s Georgia colleague U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson issued a similar warning last week.

“This proposed tax would slam the brakes on the pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda that Congress and the president have been fighting for,” the third-term Republican said in a press release that also called for a “targeted approach” to unfair trade policies.

Perdue's position opposite the president is a novel one. The first-term Republican has only rarely broken ranks with Trump since his inauguration. Isakson has also steered clear of criticizing the president directly.

recent AJC survey of business and economic experts found that the tariffs would have mixed effects in Georgia but would likely lead to higher costs for companies -- and eventually consumers. The state's dominant agriculture industry could be hit especially hard.

For his part, Trump has pushed back against critics of his tariffs proposal.

"We're not backing down,” he said Monday.

The president said he does not expect the proposed tariffs to cause a trade war, but two days earlier he said on Twitter that such battles are “good, and easy to win.”

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Gary Cohn, Trump's top economic adviser, plans to step down in the weeks ahead. The story did not cite a single factor behind the high-profile resignation but Cohn had passionately argued against the tariffs.

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