WASHINGTON -- Hoping to blunt a move Republicans fear could spark a trade war and backfire politically, party leaders in the House and Senate implored President Donald Trump on Tuesday to narrow or repudiate his planned tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
The rare public disagreement between the president and the legislative leaders who have been largely deferential to him came amid widespread Republican concern that Trump's desired tariffs -- 25 percent on foreign steel and 10 percent on foreign aluminum -- would prompt retaliation that could slow the economy and deprive GOP candidates of their main argument in November.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has repeatedly talked to the president since his surprise declaration last week, said that Republican senators are worried "about interfering with what appears to be an economy taking off."
"We are urging caution that this (not) develop into something much more dramatic that could send the economy in the wrong direction," he told reporters after a Senate lunch Tuesday.
His remarks came hours after House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin said that his members shared those concerns and had repeatedly made their fears known to the White House.
"The smarter way to go is to make it more surgical and more targeted," Ryan said of the tariffs, which have yet to be formally announced.
Ryan said that in multiple conversations, congressional Republicans have strongly urged Trump to go after "true abusers" in a way that avoided "unintended consequences and collateral damage."
For years, Trump has complained that China has dumped low-priced steel on U.S. markets, undercutting domestic manufacturers. But administration officials made clear in recent days that his proposed tariffs would hit every nation, including neighboring Canada, a high-ranking steel exporter.
Legislative leaders were hopeful Tuesday that the White House was, at the very least, wobbling on the breadth of its tariff order.
On Monday, the president said that he might consider exempting Canada and Mexico from tariffs if the three countries reach a new North American Free Trade Agreement that he finds acceptable. He spoke Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a conversation in which the White House said Trump "emphasized his commitment to a NAFTA agreement that was fair to all three countries."