Trump defies critics, makes steel and aluminum tariffs official

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Defying critics, President Donald Trump has officially announced steep tariffs on aluminum and steel imports, with possible exceptions for U.S. allies, including Canada and Mexico.

Steel imports would be hit with a 25 percent tariff, and aluminum imports with a 10 percent tariff.

"Today I'm defending America's national security by placing tariffs on foreign imports of steel and aluminum," Trump said.

"A strong steel and aluminum industry are vital to our national security. You don't have steel, you don't have a country," he said.

"The American steel and aluminum industry has been ravaged by aggressive foreign trade practices, it's really an assault on our country," Trump said.

"I'm delivering on a promise I made during the campaign," he added.

Steelworkers from Pittsburgh, some with hard hats in hand, stood just behind the president as he made the announcement.

Trump was also joined by Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and Peter Navarro, head of the White House's Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy.

After a chaotic 24 hours at the White House, during which administration officials weren't even sure Trump would follow through with imposing tariffs, Trump tweeted Thursday morning about a 3:30 p.m. meeting - that wasn't on his official schedule - about the steel and aluminum industries.

Trump's decision to impose tariffs has divided the White House, angered Republicans on Capitol Hill, and could potentially alienate allies abroad.

On Tuesday, Trump's National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said he was resigning after losing the battle inside the White House over tariffs. And on Wednesday, leaders from Capitol Hill intensely lobbied the White House to reconsider. One hundred and eight Republicans led by House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady wrote a letter to Trump expressing their concerns.

But despite intense resistance, Trump went ahead with his decision.

“We're going to be very fair, we're going to be very flexible but we're going to protect the American worker as I said I would do in my campaign,” Trump said earlier Thursday at a Cabinet meeting.

“I’ll have a right to go up or down depending on the country and I’ll have a right to drop out countries or add countries,” Mr Trump said. “I just want fairness, because we have not been treated fairly by other countries.”

According to a senior White House official, the tariffs will go into effect in 15 days, with exceptions for Mexico and Canada for an indefinite period of time as the United States continues to engage in NAFTA negotiations.

If Canada and Mexico are excluded from the tariffs, a White House official said it may necessitate a bump in the tariffs percentages.

"If Canada and Mexico were to be excluded we would perhaps maybe have to raise the tariffs on everybody else - and modestly I might add -- to ensure that our steel and aluminum industries are protected," the official said.

The administration has used a national security justification under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act because steel and aluminum play an important role in our defense industry.

Critics have warned that the tariffs could set off an international trade war, but the White House has said that the proclamations will potentially offer flexibility for more countries to gain exemptions.

"The flexibility is designed both to accommodate our security relationships, but also ensure an ironclad way that we preserve our steel and aluminum industries in the interest of national security," the official said.

Still, some Republican lawmakers say the decision could roll back any economic benefits of tax reform and result in a net loss of jobs.

"His recent tariff proposals would stall and ultimately undermine the progress he has made," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in an op-ed. "Imposing across-the-board tariffs would hurt America’s relationships with reliable trading partners and be detrimental to the nation’s economic success."

"If you just look at steel, this plan will kill steel jobs in America," said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., on CBS News.

According to one analysis by the independent Trade Partnership, the tariffs will create 33,000 new jobs in the steel and aluminum sectors, but ultimately result in a net loss of 146,000 jobs across the country.

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