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Republican Sen. Pat Toomey On Why He Opposes Trump's Plan To Impose Tariffs On Mexico


Let's bring in another voice on this story, Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, who is on the record calling the president's proposed tariffs on Mexican exports, quote, "the wrong remedy" and "misguided." Senator Toomey, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PAT TOOMEY: Thanks for having me, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Misguided, why? Give me the nutshell version of why you think these tariffs would be a really bad idea.

TOOMEY: Well, there's several levels to that, not the least of which is it's a tax on Americans who would choose to purchase products that originate in Mexico. Mexico is one of our biggest trading partners, nearest neighbor, closest ally. And so it would directly diminish the value of the tax reform that we did by raising taxes on consumers. It would disrupt supply chains for American companies, thereby making them less competitive. And so that's the direct, practical, economic impact.

The indirect economic impact would be if the Mexican government decided they had to retaliate and impose tariffs on American products, then we would sell fewer products to Mexico. That's not good for our exporters, including those in Pennsylvania.

And then, finally, I would say, you know, it's going to be more difficult for the administration to reach trade agreements if while we have a trade agreement - and right now, NAFTA is in force, and NAFTA is a zero-tariff agreement. If the president can wake up one Thursday morning and unilaterally announce, so there's going to be a 25% tax on all of your products, well, what meaning is there to the trade agreement?

KELLY: All right. So you're laying out immediate economic impact, potential impact on future trade deals. Have you reached out, told the White House directly, please don't do this?

TOOMEY: I've had a lot of conversations with people in the White House, including the president, over recent months. They know very well what my view is on tariffs like these.

KELLY: So according to President Trump, these tariffs will go into effect on Monday. What...

TOOMEY: Well, they may go into effect on Monday, right?

KELLY: He says they're going into effect on Monday, so we will see what the coming hours and days bring. But you, as a coequal - as a member of a coequal branch of government, have a say here. What are your thoughts in terms of how Congress might want to block them?

TOOMEY: Well, first, we have to see whether or not they, in fact, go into effect and, you know, what the nature of that is. But ultimately, I think if the president chooses to impose a round of tariffs, the authority under which the administration has indicated they would do this, I think there is a resolution of disapproval mechanism available to Congress. And so, you know, we would certainly have to seriously consider voting to disapprove it.

KELLY: A resolution of disapproval - this is something that was deployed when the president wanted his national emergency. It's not the most forceful-sounding response, if you'll forgive me for saying.

TOOMEY: Well...

KELLY: I mean, should there be an outright vote to reject the tariffs?

TOOMEY: So - well, it would have that effect if it were to succeed and could overcome a presidential veto. It would have the effect of preventing the tariffs from going into effect, so it is.

KELLY: But you raise the sticking point, which is you would need a veto-proof majority. Are enough Republicans prepared to override the president on this?

TOOMEY: It's not clear until you have the vote, so we'll find out. But I can tell you I do think there would be more Republicans voting against a designation of this sort than voted against the last one, and there were 12 of us who voted against the last one. So it's entirely possible that we would have a veto-proof majority. That's - it's - we won't know until the vote occurs, if the vote occurs.

KELLY: What about another possible area of leverage that U.S. lawmakers have, which is withholding support for the new NAFTA deal, the USMCA, that the president has said he really wants?

TOOMEY: Well, the - so I am not a supporter of the new - the newly negotiated NAFTA deal because I think it's going to diminish trade. So my threatening to withhold my support - it would be a hollow threat.

KELLY: You're happy to withhold support either way.

TOOMEY: Anyway...

KELLY: But that would appear to be one area of leverage that Republicans can exert over the president.

TOOMEY: You raise a valid point because the existence of the steel and aluminum tariffs, I think, were certainly an obstacle to USMCA approval in the Senate. And I think the president realized that, and I think that probably contributed to their decision to lift those steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico.

So if the president were to go ahead and impose these tariffs on Mexico, it's very hard to see how USMCA goes forward. I mean, you know, how the Mexicans respond when they have a free trade agreement that precludes tariffs like this and the president nevertheless imposes tariffs like this - it's hard to imagine the Mexican Senate ratifying this agreement. It's hard for me to imagine the U.S. Senate approving it, or the House, for that matter. So I do think that is a serious obstacle for the administration.

KELLY: And you said we should wait and see what happens. Are you optimistic some deal may be reached to avert these tariffs?

TOOMEY: I think there's a real chance there might be a deal to avert the tariffs, but this is very hard to predict. I'm not in the predicting business. We'll find out.

KELLY: Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, thanks so much. We appreciate your time.

TOOMEY: All right. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.