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Trump signs steel, aluminum tariffs despite significant opposition

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 06: A sawyer carries a cut of machine grade steel to be shipped throughout the Pacific Northwest at the Pacific Machinery & Tool Steel Company on March 6, 2018 in Portland, Oregon.United States President Donald Trump announced he intends to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, sparking fears that such actions could provoke a trade war. (Photo by Natalie Behring/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump signed tariff proclamations at the White House Thursday afternoon. The sweeping tariffs, which take effect within 15 days, will impose duties of 10 percent on aluminum imports and a 25 percent on steel imports.

In his speech before the signing, Trump called American steel and aluminum works "the backbone of America." "Steel is steel," he said early in the speech, "if you don't have steel, you don't have a country." "The American steel and aluminum industry has been ravaged" by foreign trade policies, Trump said, before hinting that "this is only the first step."

Trump announced the planned tariffs March 1 at a meeting with leaders from American steel and aluminum industries.

Although the president initially said that there would be no exemptions to the tariff, the version he signed today would give Canada and Mexico a 30-day exemption while the White House tries to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had warned after Trump's initial tariff announcement that “any disruption to the integrated market would be significant and serious.”

Trump said that if NAFTA is successfully renegotiated, "there won't be any tariffs on Canada and there won't be any tariffs on Mexico." But he also stated that "if we don't make a deal on NAFTA" the tariffs would go into effect for those nations as well.

Trump suggested that other nations could also be exempt from the tariffs. "American remains open to modify or remove tariffs on individual nations" if those nations are determined to not be a security threat, Trump said.

“Looking forward to 3:30 P.M. meeting today at the White House. We have to protect & build our Steel and Aluminum Industries while at the same time showing great flexibility and cooperation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military,” Trump announced in a tweet this morning. The president has not yet clarified which other nations he considers to be “real friends,” or how far this flexibility and cooperation would go.

The tariffs have been met by bipartisan criticism. More than 100 Republican members of Congress signed a letter on March 7 to “express deep concern about the prospect of broad, global tariffs on aluminum and steel imports.” The signatories included House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Rep. David Reichart (R-Wash.), chairman of the subcommittee on trade. The letter urged President Trump to "reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to the U.S. economy and its workers."

However, Sen Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) pointed out that while they can petition him to change his mind, Congress cannot override this decision by the president without changing federal law, which would presumably require a veto-proof majority. “For decades the Congress has punted lots and lots of its authorities and responsibilities to the Executive Branch, and regardless of whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, that’s a bad idea,” Sasse said in an interview on "CBS This Morning."

Leaders of U.S. allies, including France, Germany, and the European Union, have sharply criticized the deal. The European Union has threatened to impose tariffs of its own on U.S. made products including bourbon, blue jeans, and motorcycles.

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