President Trump warned Tuesday that he will impose a 5 percent tariff on Mexican imports starting next week, saying Republican lawmakers would be “foolish” to try to stop him.
Trump’s comments suggested that the imposition of the tariffs on June 10 is nearly inevitable, despite pleas from GOP lawmakers to reconsider as they warn of ruinous economic consequences. Some lawmakers and business groups had hoped the president would back down, given dire warnings about what the import penalties could do to the U.S. economy.
Trump said talks with Mexico will continue even as he goes forward with the tariffs aimed at forcing Mexico to stem the tide of Central American migrants and asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. border.
“It’s more likely the tariffs go on and we’ll probably be talking during the time the tariffs are on,” Trump said during a news conference in Britain with Prime Minister Theresa May.
White House officials on Tuesday were preparing to implement the tariffs next week. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top administration officials plan to meet with Mexican leaders Wednesday, but White House officials have been careful not to specify precise actions they expect Mexico to take in exchange for not imposing the tariffs. Some Trump advisers think that the president likes negotiating from a position of strength and that he believes he will have more leverage over Mexico if the tariffs are in position.
As for GOP talk of voting on a disapproval resolution to block the levies , Trump said, “Oh, I don’t think they will do that, I think if they did it’s foolish.”
He added: “There’s nothing more important than borders. I’ve had tremendous Republican support.”
Trump shocked U.S. lawmakers and Mexican leaders last week by announcing that he would impose a 5 percent tariff on all goods imported from Mexico on June 10, and then increase the levies each month if the border with the United States isn’t closed to migrants.
GOP lawmakers warned White House officials that the tariffs could imperil the chances of passing an overhaul of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, but Trump has remained undeterred.
Trump suggested Tuesday that Mexico could take action to stave off the tariffs, and Mexican officials expressed optimism that they could reach a deal to avoid the penalties.
“Mexico shouldn’t allow millions of people to try and enter our country, and they could stop it very quickly and I think they will,” Trump said. “And if they won’t, we’re going to put tariffs on. And every month those tariffs go from 5 percent to 10 percent to 15 percent to 20 [percent] and then to 25 percent.”
Trump’s tone as he addressed reporters in London contrasted with that of Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, who said at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday that he thought his country had an 80 percent chance of reaching a deal.
Mexico has begun a vigorous offensive to avert the U.S. tariffs .
Mexico’s economic minister, agriculture minister and others are meeting with U.S. counterparts, and delegations of Mexican lawmakers and business leaders are also heading to Washington to warn against the tariffs. The penalties could severely affect Mexico, which sends 80 percent of its exports to the United States, its top trading partner.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador also expressed optimism Tuesday at a news conference in Mexico when he said he is confident that the two sides “will reach an accord before the 10th of June.”
Trump told reporters that his top aides would meet with the Mexicans on Wednesday and that “we are going to see if we can do something, but I think it’s more likely that the tariffs go on.”
The threat has so alarmed GOP lawmakers that they have begun discussing voting on a second disapproval resolution to overturn Trump’s declaration of an emergency at the border. Trump made the declaration to get money to build a border wall, and some White House officials say that designation gives him the legal authority to impose tariffs.
Congress already has passed one resolution disapproving of the emergency declaration, but Trump issued a veto and Congress did not override it.
A second attempt could result in an explosive confrontation between Trump and members of his own party, who strongly oppose tariffs as taxes on U.S. consumers.
This time, some GOP lawmakers and aides say the Senate may have enough votes to overturn a presidential veto, because of the intense GOP opposition to tariffs. Such an outcome would be an embarrassing rebuke to the president — even if the veto override vote ultimately failed in the House, where Republicans have shown scant willingness to oppose the president. It takes two-thirds support in the House and the Senate to overturn a presidential veto.
Traditional pro-business Republican groups also have announced strong opposition to the tariffs, and some are urging Congress to act. Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by the Koch brothers, sent a letter to congressional leaders on Tuesday calling the proposed tariffs “the largest tax hike in modern history” and saying that “it’s time for Congress to do its job.”
“Given the potential damage to our economy and our national interests, we believe it is time for Congress to reclaim its constitutionally mandated authority to impose tariffs, and to prevent further unilateral tariff increases by the president,” the letter says.
GOP lawmakers and business groups are also concerned that the fight over the tariffs may jeopardize Trump’s efforts to pass a rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the administration had hoped would come to a vote this summer.
Senate Republicans will hear from White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin at a lunch later Tuesday to discuss the legal rationale for imposing the tariffs.
Mexican officials have indicated that they are willing to take new steps to restrain the movement of migrants to the U.S. border, although they haven’t described them publicly.
The Trump administration has listed three actions it wants from Mexico: strengthening its southern border with Guatemala; stepping up interdiction of busses filled with migrants being smuggled through its territory; and agreeing to accept asylum seekers instead of allowing them to proceed to the U.S. border.
Mexican officials have ruled out the third request.
U.S. authorities have detained more than 100,000 migrants along the Mexican border in each of the past two months. Mexico has nearly tripled monthly deportations since the start of the year but is struggling to cope with the rising flow of migrants.
Sheridan reported from Mexico City. Damian Paletta contributed to this report.