President Trump digs in on tariffs, says he's protecting American workers

PHOTO: President Donald Trump looks to Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, March 6, 2018, in Washington.PlayAndrew Harnik/AP
WATCH President Trump digs in on tariffs, says he's protecting American workers

President Donald Trump insisted Tuesday that he’s staying the course on his proposed steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, showing little concern about possibly sparking a trade war.

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“When we're behind on every single country, trade wars aren't so bad,” the president contended, arguing that trade deficits necessitate that he take action to balance U.S. trading relationships.

If the tariffs happen he said, "We'll do it in a long, loving way. They'll like us better. And they will almost like us much more."

Trump also pointed to the move as a means to fulfill one of his key campaign promises to help the American worker, arguing that the steel and aluminum industries have been hurt by unfair international trade practices.

“I'm here to protect and one of the reasons I was elected is I'm protecting our workers, I'm protecting our companies. I'm not going to let that happen. So we're doing tariffs on steel. We cannot lose our steel industry. It's a fraction of what it once was and we can't lose our aluminum industry, also a fraction of what it once was,” Trump said.

The president argued that the tariffs are about more than economic policy but also a matter of defense, expressing his belief that healthy steel and aluminum industries are vital to a nation's fundamental existence.

"Our aluminum mills are going out of business. And we need steel and we need aluminum. And you know, there is a theory that if a country doesn't have steel, it doesn't have a country. And it's true," Trump said. "So this is more than just pure economics. This is about defense."

The president further signaled that some of the United States’ closest trading partners, including Canada, Mexico, and the European Union may be exempted from the tariffs if they are able to give the United States something in exchange.

“We're working on NAFTA right now and if we're able to make a deal with Canada and Mexico in NAFTA, then there will be no reason to do the tariffs with Canada and Mexico,” Trump said. “But again, other countries, we won't have that choice and unless they can do something for us. As an example, if the European Union takes off some of the horrible barriers that make it impossible for our product to go into there, then we can start talking.”