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GOP lawmakers, business groups slam Trump's Mexico tariff threat

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Image: U.S. Senator Grassley speaks to reporters on his way from the Senate
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was among several GOP lawmakers blasting the president's threat to impose tariffs on Mexico. -
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Jonathan Ernst Reuters file
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WASHINGTON — Several Republicans in Congress and major business groups on Friday slammed President Donald Trump's threat to impose a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican goods starting next month, warning that the move would hurt both the U.S. economy and the USMCA trade deal's chances of congressional approval.

The president said on Thursday that the tariffs would rise monthly to as high as 25 percent unless Mexico "substantially stops" the number of migrants entering the U.S. illegally.

"If the president goes through with this, I'm afraid progress to get this trade agreement across the finish line will be stifled," said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, in a statement Friday. "While I support the need for comprehensive border security and a permanent fix to illegal immigration, this isn't the right path forward. I'm asking the president to reconsider, and for Democrats to work with us to find a solution to the humanitarian crisis at our southern border."

The senior senator from her state, Republican Chuck Grassley, also blasted Trump's decision and even suggested that he was abusing his presidential authority.

"Trade policy and border security are separate issues," Grassley said in a statement Thursday night. "This is a misuse of presidential authority and counter to congressional intent. Following through on this threat would seriously jeopardize passage of USMCA, a central campaign pledge of President Trump's and what could be a big victory for the country."

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., the lone Republican lawmaker calling for impeachment proceedings against Trump, derided the president and his congressional supporters in a tweet Thursday.

"How many times will Congress let the president unilaterally raise taxes on Americans? All the times," Amash said.

As lawmakers remain in their congressional districts for a week-long recess, most Republicans remained silent about the announcement.

A few voiced support for it, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said that he backs Trump and that the "illegal flows from Central America must stop and Mexico needs to do more."

"If Mexico does not do more we will have over a million illegal immigrants from Central America next year. I don't like tariffs but in this case it is a national security issue and Mexico needs to change their behavior," he tweeted.

The president staunchly defended his position on Friday, tweeting that it's "about stopping drugs as well as illegals!"

In a letter to Trump Thursday night, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that his country would not retaliate, but suggested that the new policy would not be effective, saying that, "Social problems don't get resolved with duties or coercive measures."

Major U.S. business groups said that the move would have negative consequences.

"These proposed tariffs would have devastating consequences on manufacturers in America and on American consumers," the CEO and president of the National Association of Manufacturers, Jay Timmons — whose group backs the USMCA, and supported the 2017 GOP tax cuts package — said in a statement. "We have taken our concerns to the highest levels of the administration and strongly urge them to consider carefully the impact of this action on working families across this country."

Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs of major corporations, sounded a similar note. "Imposing unilateral tariffs on Mexican imports would be a grave error," the group said in a statement, adding that it "strongly urges the Administration not to move forward with these tariffs, which would create significant economic disruption and tax U.S. workers, farmers, consumers and businesses."

White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters in a conference call Thursday that the decision would not affect the trade deal.

"No, the two are absolutely not linked," he said. "This president will defend the nation. He will defend the southern border. If that means taking the tariffs to 25 percent, that means taking the tariffs to 25 percent. We hope — sincerely hope — it does not come to that."

Before the tariffs announcement Thursday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had sent a letter to congressional leaders to begin the ratification process of the USMCA, and Mexico's president had formally asked Mexico's Senate to ratify the deal.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested in a statement that the administration's move on the trade pact was premature.

"The Trump Administration's decision to send Congress a draft statement of administrative action before we have finished working with U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer to ensure the USMCA benefits American workers and farmers is not a positive step," she said. "It indicates a lack of knowledge on the part of the Administration on the policy and process to pass a trade agreement."