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Republicans Exploring Options To Block Trump Administration's Tariffs

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump goes to the G-7 meeting in Canada tomorrow where he'll face leaders of countries like Canada, Germany and France, all U.S. allies upset about big tariffs that Trump imposed on their steel and aluminum exports. Even some Republicans in Congress believe these tariffs are a bad move. Some GOP lawmakers are talking about a bill that would block the president from putting them into place.

Our next guest is Republican Congressman Peter Roskam, who represents an Illinois district near Chicago. Welcome to the program.

PETER ROSKAM: Thank you for having me on.

SHAPIRO: You've supported targeted measures on some steel imports like those from China. What makes these different?

ROSKAM: What makes these different is these are going after our allies with whom we really have no conflict. And I think that this will have an adverse impact on small manufacturers in my constituency that I've heard directly from - and not just the manufacturers but obviously their employees and clearly American consumers. I think the smarter move is for us to focus our time and energy on China, which - there's all kinds of trade infractions. And this is not well-placed resources in a fight that we really shouldn't be having right now.

SHAPIRO: President Trump doesn't appear to be backing down. Do you think it's now the role of Congress to stop him through legislation?

ROSKAM: So the challenge with stopping the president through legislation obviously is the president would have to sign the bill. So said another way, these original trade structures were put in place to give presidents authorities to ease up on trade tariffs and to make it easier for commerce to pass between countries. It was not necessarily contemplated that you'd have a president that was tougher on a country than Congress was.

So I think we're very much in the persuasion mode. I had a meeting today along with some others with Secretary Ross. I'm heading into a meeting with Ambassador Lighthizer, giving voice to these concerns. And I think when push comes to shove, one of the voices that's going to have a disproportionately significant impact is American agriculture because they're ashen-faced at the idea of getting into a trade war.

SHAPIRO: But President Trump has changed his position on some issues. Trade is one issue where he's been very consistent. He talked about this all the time on the campaign trail. Isn't he just keeping the promise that he made to his voters?

ROSKAM: It's a fair point. I think Donald Trump is a mercantilist. In other words, he believes that if you raise tariffs on products, you're going to create more economic activity in this country. And from my understanding, this is a view that he's probably had for the past several decades. The problem is it has a negative impact on my district. And it has a negative impact, I think, on other key constituencies across the country.

So there's many, many folks around in the economic sphere that are trying to move into a free trade direction. And that's not to say that these trade deals don't need to be revisited. They do. But walking away from NAFTA, for example, would be incredibly detrimental to my constituency. And getting into this sort of trade conflict, particularly with our allies, I think is counterproductive.

SHAPIRO: This midterm election, Republicans are running on the strong economy and the benefit of the tax cuts, and some members of your party are afraid these tariffs could undo those gains. Do you share those concerns?

ROSKAM: I am concerned. So one of the things that has been - you know, we've got unemployment at an 18-year low. We're knocking on the door of 3 percent growth. You know, you can just feel the expansive nature of the economy, which is really benefiting a lot of folks across the entire spectrum. And yet tariffs are taxes. And we want our tariffs as low as possible. And in most cases, we're better without them at all.

SHAPIRO: Congressman Peter Roskam, Republican of Illinois, thanks for joining us today.

ROSKAM: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.