Trump Tells Lawmakers He’s Mulling Limits on Imported Steel

That pushback, which has garnered the sympathy of many pro-trade Republicans, appears to have turned a trade action that the White House initially viewed as relatively straightforward into a more extended affair.

In speeches in May and June, Trump administration officials implied that action on steel would soon be forthcoming. But in the months that followed, little information emerged about the investigations. In September, the commerce secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr., said that a decision on the steel measure would be delayed until after Congress approved a new tax law, because the administration did not want to “unnecessarily irritate” lawmakers.

The Commerce Department formally submitted the results of its investigations into steel and aluminum imports to the White House in January. The president now faces a deadline of April 11 for a decision on the steel case, and a deadline of April 20 for a similar decision on aluminum.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers who gathered at the White House on Tuesday are generally split along party lines on the restrictions. Most Democrats voiced support for the president’s action on metals, and Republicans, with the exception of Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, urged caution.

Representative Jackie Walorski, Republican of Indiana, warned that price increases could affect the recreational vehicles made in her district. Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan, noted that the auto parts industry relied on inexpensive metals. And Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, said that past tariffs imposed in 2002 by President George W. Bush on steel had cost jobs for auto parts companies.

In a statement after the meeting, Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas and the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said that the Trump administration needed to hold China accountable for unfair trade practices. But he urged the president to “avoid any action” that could reverse what he described as the benefits of lower taxes and lighter regulation under the Trump administration.

“I committed to continuing to work with him to identify a narrow and targeted remedy that is balanced, effective, protects national security and economic interests across America, and addresses the root problem of China’s distortive practices,” Mr. Brady said.

The president listened to their comments but occasionally offered some pushback, saying he believed foreign steel manufacturers would absorb the cost of the tariff, rather than raising their prices. “You may have a higher price, but you have jobs,” Mr. Trump said.

Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, suggested that the president focus specifically on countries that have unfair trading practices. “I would urge us to go very, very cautiously here,” he said.

Mr. Trump replied, “That’s all countries.”

The United Steelworkers, the country’s largest industrial union, and companies that forge steel and aluminum have united in pushing for import restrictions. But they have faced opposition from a broad array of industries that argue tariffs could hurt their ability to compete and cost more jobs than they would save.

On Monday, a collection of 15 trade associations representing more than 30,000 businesses that use steel to make products warned the White House in a letter that such restrictions could undermine their ability to manufacture goods in the United States.

The associations said that their member companies employed more than one million Americans, compared with just 80,000 jobs in basic steel production.

“Restrictions on basic steel imports will actually adversely impact national security, the economy and the steel industry itself, because it will undermine our competitiveness and limit our ability to make value-added products here,” the letter read.

The president received more support from the Democrats at the meeting. Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, thanked Mr. Trump for recent tariffs imposed to protect American manufacturers of washing machines, and urged tough measures on steel imports.

Mr. Brown said he was hopeful that the administration’s renegotiation of Nafta would succeed, noting that if it was written in a way that supports workers, “we can deliver Democrat support.”

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, urged the president to include “Buy America” provisions in his infrastructure plan, and asked the administration to publicly release reports that the Commerce Department had submitted last month to the White House.

“We’ve got to have a chance to see the analysis done by the secretary in order to make thoughtful recommendations,” Mr. Wyden said in an interview.

Despite Mr. Trump’s support for the steel measure, he gave no indication of potential timing, Mr. Wyden added. “I didn’t feel that a decision had been made.”

Correction: February 13, 2018

An earlier version of this article misidentified the party affiliation of Senator Gary Peters. He is a Democrat, not a Republican.

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