President Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum reverberated across the world Thursday, spurring retaliatory threats from some of the nation’s closest allies and sending stock prices plummeting on investors’ fears of the global economic fallout.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called Trump’s decision “a blatant intervention to protect U.S. domestic industry” under the guise of national security. He said he would submit a proposal in the next few days to hit back at the U.S.
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“We will not sit idly while our industry is hit with unfair measures that put thousands of European jobs at risk,” Juncker said. “The EU will react firmly and commensurately to defend our interests.”
The timing of the announcement also embarrassed Mexico and Canada, longtime allies and trading partners, which are in the midst of the seventh round of talks with the U.S. to renegotiate NAFTA.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said any restrictions against Canadian steel imports would be “absolutely unacceptable.” She noted that Canada, a longtime U.S. ally and trading partner, buys more American steel than any other country in the world, accounting for half of U.S. exports.
“Should restrictions be imposed on Canadian steel and aluminum products, Canada will take responsive measures to defend its trade interests and workers,” she said.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 420 points after rising more than 150 points earlier in the day. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq both declined 1.3 percent.
Trump unveiled the planned tariffs, to be finalized next week, during a listening session at the White House with steel and aluminum industry leaders after a chaotic 24-hour period of debate among key members of his administration who appeared to push conflicting agendas.
The president’s decision, which fulfills a campaign promise to get tough on U.S. trading partners, pivots off of a pair of Commerce Department investigations that determined imports of steel and aluminum are eating away at domestic production capacity in those two sectors and pose a threat to U.S. national security interests.
“People have no idea how badly our country has been treated by other countries, by people representing us that didn’t have a clue,” Trump said. “Or if they did, then they should be ashamed of themselves because they’ve destroyed the steel industry, they’ve destroyed the aluminum industry, and other industries, frankly, when you look at all the plants, the car plants, automobile plants that moved down to Mexico for no reason whatsoever, except we didn’t know what we were doing.”
During the meeting, there was no talk of targeting specific countries, like China, which has flooded the United States with cheap metals — or granting exemptions to allies such as Canada, Mexico and members of the European Union, according to a transcript of the meeting released by the White House and the industry executives who were present.
Other important details remained up in the air, including how long the tariffs would be in effect. But Trump told industry executives at the meeting that “you’ll have protection for a long time, in a while. You’ll have to regrow your industries, that’s all I’m asking.”
Trump’s announcement came while Chinese President Xi Jinping’s chief economic adviser, Liu He, was in Washington for a White House meeting with key Cabinet officials. The Chinese government did not issue a formal response. But Wang Hejun, an official in charge of China’s trade remedy division, said last month that the Commerce Department reports that led to Trump’s announcement reached conclusions that “have no basis and are totally against the facts.”
“If the final decision of the U.S. affects China’s interests, China will definitely take necessary measures to safeguard its legitimate rights,” Wang said.
A Japanese steel industry official said retaliatory measures were a real concern.
“The 25 percent across-the-board tariff on foreign steel is ill-advised and naive,” said Tadaaki Yamaguchi, chairman of the Japan Steel Information Center, an industry group, in a statement. “It will inevitably invite retaliation from America’s most reliable allies, ultimately hurting American non-manufacturing industries as well.”
Some of the harshest initial reactions came from members of Trump’s own party, who have traditionally championed free trade.
Besides triggering a damaging trade war with allies, Senate Republicans expressed fear that the actions would greatly increase costs for manufacturers in other industries and undermine some of the gains of the GOP’s tax overhaul. However, they said they were not certain there was any action Congress could take to prevent him from imposing the tariffs.
“Tariffs on steel and aluminum are a tax hike the American people don’t need and can’t afford,” Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement, urging Trump to “carefully consider all of the implications” before putting the restrictions in place.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) expressed indignation, saying, “You’d expect a policy this bad from a leftist administration, not from a supposedly Republican one.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, expressed exasperation with Trump’s decision, given that GOP lawmakers have met repeatedly with the president in recent months and warned him against imposing tariffs and taking other trade moves that could damage the economy.
“We’ve advised him against it, but he’s convinced that it’s the right thing to do,” Thune said.
“I’ve been in meetings with him on trade and everybody’s been very clear that we think that some of the decisions they’re talking about making and policies they’re talking about implementing would be very harmful to the economy at a time when it’s really taking off,” the senior Republican said.
A similar effort during the George W. Bush administration to protect steelworker jobs by imposing tariffs ended up costing more jobs in steel-consuming sectors than it saved, said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
“We’re a big manufacturing state, we use a lot of aluminum in beer canning, but also steel in manufacturing throughout Wisconsin, so I’m highly concerned about that move,” he said.
While Trump is right to be concerned about the effect that China’s excess steel and aluminum production capacity is having on world markets, “I’m just afraid this might be counterproductive,” Johnson added.
In contrast, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) applauded the move, which he called a “long overdue” response to unfair Chinese trade practices. “If we fail to stand up for steel jobs today, China will come after other jobs up and down the supply chain tomorrow,” Brown said.
Steel and aluminum industry executives who attended Thursday’s listening session said that no definitive decision had been made, despite Trump’s announcement. Most, however, cheered the tough talk.
“We’re convinced we’ll see very quick action, definitive action, and action that’s meaningful and long lasting,” said John Ferriola, president and CEO of Nucor Corporation, one the nation’s biggest steel companies. The meeting was “very productive” but short on specifics, he added.
Michael Bless, CEO of Century Aluminum, told POLITICO the meeting was a thrill. “It was a great meeting. It surpassed our expectations entirely,” he said. “We expected 30 minutes. I missed two flights that I was thrilled to miss.”
Lorraine Woellert, John Bresnahan, Adam Behsudi and Megan Cassella contributed to this report.
The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, is resigning from the post, the latest in a string of high-profile departures from the State Department.
Jacobson’s departure, effective Monday, comes amid lingering tensions between the Trump administration and the Mexican government over immigration, trade and other sensitive topics. In recent days, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto scrapped a planned visit to the United States after a tense phone call with President Donald Trump.
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Jacobson’s decision to leave was first reported by The New York Times and confirmed to POLITICO by a person familiar with the issue.
Jacobson sent a note to staffers at her embassy praising their work.
“After more than thirty-one years of U.S. Government service, I have come to the difficult decision that it is the right time to move on to new challenges and adventures,” she wrote in the memo, obtained by POLITICO. “This decision is all the more difficult because of my profound belief in the importance of the U.S.-Mexico relationship and knowledge that it is at a crucial moment. One of the things that makes it easier is knowing that all of you will continue to do your usual outstanding work in ensuring that the relationship grows and prospers.”
The Trump administration has been looking at replacing Jacobson, an Obama administration appointee, but has not announced who it will nominate in her place.
Jacobson is highly regarded in Mexico and in U.S. diplomatic circles. She’s one of several high-profile State Department officials to announce their decision to leave in recent months, including Joseph Yun, the special envoy for North Korean issues, and Thomas Shannon, the undersecretary of state for political affairs.
Jacobson’s departure will no doubt add to concerns among U.S. lawmakers and others that the State Department is being gutted under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has failed to fill numerous leadership positions in his 13 months at the helm.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson will cancel an order for a $31,561 dining set after the cost of the furniture drew criticism.
“At the request of the Secretary, the agency is working to rescind the order for the dining room set,” HUD spokesman Raphael Williams told POLITICO Thursday.
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The agency’s purchase of chairs, a table and hutch for Carson’s office came to light after a whistleblower complaint about the secretary’s redecorating budget. Carson eventually spent $3,373 to replace the drapes in his office and replaced some of his furniture with upholstered chairs and sofas stored in HUD’s basement.
According to Williams, HUD career staff separately decided, without consulting the secretary, to replace the meeting table and chairs in the office, which were purchased in 1967 and beyond repair.
Williams didn’t immediately respond to questions about why or when the order was canceled.
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