WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said he was enacting steel and aluminum tariffs Thursday, capping off a week’s worth of controversy over his plans to impose the new trade penalties.
“Today I’m defending America’s national security by placing tariffs on foreign imports of steel,” the president said in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, flanked by steel and aluminum workers. “…Steel is steel. You don’t have steel, you don’t have a country.”
The tariffs — 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum — will take effect Mar. 23, a senior administration official told reporters by phone Thursday afternoon.
Mexico and Canada received immediate exemptions from the tariffs, but the senior administration official stressed that “all countries will be welcome to discuss” other possible ways to address “alternative means” of remedying the threat to national security caused by imports from that country.
On Thursday morning, Trump added Australia to the list of allied nations that could see some sort of exemption from the penalties, telling reporters as he wrapped up a Cabinet meeting that the policy would be a “flexible” one.
The Mexico and Canada exemptions come in the context of the ongoing NAFTA renegotiation, the official said, without putting a specific timeline on how long those exceptions might last.
Trump first announced the Thursday afternoon event — which had not previously been listed on the White House’s official schedule — Thursday morning on Twitter, saying that new protections for these industries would show “great flexibility and cooperation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military.”
In the immediate aftermath of the tweet, it was still unclear — even to many within the administration — precisely what would happen at the event, a White House official told NBC News. Mid-afternoon, the administration announced that the president would use the event to officially move forward on the new policy.
While the White House has repeatedly said these tariffs should come as no surprise, the news has riled many GOP lawmakers, U.S. trade partners, and even some inside Trump’s own White House. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn resigned Tuesday following the president’s unexpected announcement that he planned to enact the trade penalties.
On Thursday morning, Trump praised and knocked Cohn in the same breath, saying he was “terrific” despite being “a globalist… but in his own way he’s a nationalist, because he loves our country.” Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs banker and a registered Democrat from New York, was tagged as a “globalist” by detractors in and outside the White House who used it pejoratively to signal that he was opposed to Trump’s more populist or “nationalist” economic message during the 2016 campaign.
Trump added that Cohn, on hand for Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, would “maybe come back” to the administration, but not in his previous role of top economic advisor because “he’s not quite as strong on those tariffs as we want.”
Cohn has had plenty of company. Many Republicans tried publicly and privately this week to lobby the White House against tariffs, fearing retaliation from trade partners that could escalate to a trade war.
But a senior administration official fired back Thursday at the “lobbyists and the politicians and the swamp creatures within the perimeter of the Beltway” who decried the move in recent days, ripping their concerns as “all fake news.”