President Trump said on Thursday that he would impose stiff tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, making good on a key campaign promise and rattling stock markets as the prospect of a global trade fight appeared imminent.
In a hastily arranged meeting with industry executives that stunned many inside the West Wing, Mr. Trump said he would formally sign the trade measures next week and promised they would be in effect “for a long period of time.” The action, which came against the wishes of Mr. Trump’s pro-trade advisers, would impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, effectively placing a tax on every foreign shipment of those metals into the United States.
The president told more than a dozen executives that he wanted the tariffs to apply to all countries, one executive in attendance said. Mr. Trump argued that if one country was exempt, all other countries would line up to ask for similar treatment, and that metals could end up being shipped to the United States through exempted countries.
“New, huge tariffs on all kinds of imported steel is a big mistake that will increase costs on American consumers, cost our country jobs, and invite retaliation from other countries,” said Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Republicans in Congress broke ranks with the president in an unprecedented way, with one after another coming forward during the day to caution about the dangers of tariffs and plead with Trump to hold off on any action.
Key players on Capitol Hill, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, were not given any heads up about Trump’s tariff announcement. Past practice has been that legislative leaders would be briefed ahead of such a major change of policy. The prospects of a trade war also pushed the Dow down over 400 points at the close of trading.