House Speaker Paul Ryan is taking the unusual step of pushing back on President Donald Trump's proposal to impose stiff tariffs on aluminum and steel imports, saying the president needs to take a "smarter way" to avoid "collateral damage."
Ryan, who Monday warned of a possible trade war if Trump carried out his threat, was just one of several Republicans publicly suggesting the president instead target tariffs specifically on "abusers" of U.S. trade policies, especially China, which has been accused of dumping steel and aluminum exports or selling them at an unfairly low price in foreign markets.
“There's a big overcapacity problem,” Ryan said during a news conference Tuesday. “Let's go focus on the abusers of that, and that is why we think the proper approach is a more surgical approach so that we do not have unintended consequences.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Trump’s campaign trail rhetoric against China’s trade abuses was much more reflective of the situation’s reality than his current proposal, which would affect Canada and Mexico more than it would China because those two countries export more steel and aluminum to the U.S.
“These tariffs really let China off the hook,” Graham said, noting that they could hurt the export of BMWs made in his home state.
There was great uncertainty surrounding Trump’s announcement last Thursday, with top officials expressing confusion about what exactly it would entail or how specific he would be. That uncertainty appeared to resonate with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who said he didn’t think Trump’s declaration would be the final policy.
“That was, as I understand it, not the announcement,” he said, referring to the Thursday event - a meeting with industry executives - in which Trump announced a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent one on aluminum. “I know they're still looking at it. We'll see what the tariffs are. We don't know yet,” Portman added.
Portman, a director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush, also said he thought Trump should “use more of a scalpel approach” than his current approach, adding that he has spoken with some White House officials but not the president himself.
While lawmakers focus their public remarks on encouraging Trump to narrow the scope of the tariffs, they are also open to exerting Congress’s authority to block them if need be. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, told ABC News that colleagues are adding their signatures to a letter to President Trump conveying their position and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, planned to send a letter urging the president to focus tariffs on China.
“It seems like a very strange action at this time,” Hatch said, talking to reporters about Trump's proposal following a hearing.
During the hearing, Hatch warned that the action would blunt the benefits of the $1.5 trillion tax reform bill Congress recently passed.
Congress could pass a bill blocking the president from imposing tariffs on specific industries for a specified duration, but it would likely need to have enough support - two-thirds of the House and Senate - to overcome a presidential veto, assuming Trump rejects such a rebuke to his decision.
The efforts to persuade Trump to back off his hawkish trade approach are bipartisan, with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., also writing a letter to Trump urging him to reconsider.
“Going after Canada and our European allies will not only fail to solve the problem of Chinese overcapacity, but also jeopardizes key markets for American goods and strategic relationships that we rely on for our national security,” she wrote.
ABC News' John Parkinson contributed to this report.