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Republican rebellion over Mexico tariffs overshadows Trump’s European visit

As D-Day ceremonies begin, GOP members send a rare warning to the president

House Ways and Means ranking member Kevin Brady and other Republicans broke Tuesday with President Donald Trump on his planned tariffs on goods entering the country from Mexico. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Ways and Means ranking member Kevin Brady and other Republicans broke Tuesday with President Donald Trump on his planned tariffs on goods entering the country from Mexico. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump’s latest tariff war sparked a rare rebellion by Republican lawmakers on Tuesday, stealing the spotlight from his state visit to the United Kingdom and threatening to intrude on the ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France.

“On the proposed Mexico tariffs, look, there is a window here,” House Ways and Means ranking member Kevin Brady said Tuesday of escalating tensions over the tariff threat. “Negotiations, and what I’ve heard constructive negotiations, are occurring as we speak with Mexico representatives in Washington right now.”

Those negotiations, which include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his team and Mexican officials, will take place at the time world leaders, including Trump, begin to gather in Europe to mark D-Day.

“That’s what everyone should be focused on, giving both countries the space and the time to find a good solution,” Brady said. 

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Holding his ground

But Trump was not in space- or time-giving mode Tuesday. 

After donning white-tie formal wear Monday night during a state dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth II, he was back in his customary dark suit and red tie the next morning, using a joint press conference to fire broadsides at both the Mexican government and his fellow Republicans.

At issue are 5 percent tariffs on goods coming into the U.S. from Mexico that could swell to as high as 25 percent if America’s southern neighbor does not slow the flow of South and Central American migrants moving toward the U.S. border enough to assuage Trump.

“I think it’s more likely that the tariffs go on,” Trump said. “And we’ll probably be talking during the time that the tariffs are on, and they’re going to be paid.”

A major catch is that the president and his team refuse to define the extent to which Mexican authorities must tamp down the stream of migrants. And back home, GOP lawmakers are increasingly concerned that the import fees could hit consumers and businesses hard, hamstringing the economy and possibly the party’s 2020 political fortunes.

[Trump lands in UK in fighting mood as he attacks CNN and London’s mayor]

A rare break

Republican members on Tuesday signaled they are prepared to not only pass legislation that would block the escalating tariffs, but override his veto. The dramatics are a rare GOP break with Trump, and delivered him a stinging blow while on foreign soil. It has been custom for decades — before he took office — to withhold criticism of a traveling chief executive, making Republicans’ rebuke notable.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas emerged from an afternoon meeting with Trump administration officials on the topic and described the mood among his fellow Republicans as a collective “deep concern and resistance to imposing tariffs with Mexico because it would hurt American jobs.”

Cruz, a former Trump presidential rival who has been a staunch Senate ally, said the import fees would spawn “massive new taxes.” He repeated that statement when asked whether he would support a disapproval resolution.

Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley dismissed a question about whether he would support a resolution against the tariffs as merely a hypothetical question. The Iowa Republican told reporters they should ask again if the president actually puts the tariffs in place.

Democrats, including House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, said Congress will respond if Trump moves forward with his threat to institute tariffs. But the Massachusetts Democrat declined to predict what form that action might take, saying it’s still being discussed.

Hours earlier in London, Trump pushed back on the pushback from Republicans.

“Oh, I don’t think they will do that. I think if they do, it’s foolish. There’s nothing more important than borders,” he said when asked about whether Republicans would support action to head off the tariffs.

[White House brushes off Grassley, GOP concern over Mexico tariffs]

Then came his not-so-veiled threat.

“I’ve had tremendous Republican support. I have a 90 percent — 94 percent — approval rating, as of this morning, in the Republican Party,” he said. “That’s an all-time record. Can you believe that? Isn’t that something? I love records.”

It is unclear to which poll he was referring. Several out in recent days put his approval among Republicans in the high 80 percent range, including a CNN survey that showed 86 percent of GOP voters approving.

Jonathan Miller, Lindsey McPherson and Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.

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