Johnson, Ryan criticize Trump’s tariffs on imported steel, aluminum

GOP U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson criticized President Trump’s decision to sign new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, saying it threatened to undermine the administration’s efforts to improve the business climate.

Thursday’s move, Johnson told Wisconsin reporters during a conference call, could hurt Wisconsin manufacturers, farmers and consumers with higher prices. He also worried it could spark a trade war.

“President Trump may like conflict,” Johnson said. “But markets don’t like conflict. Investors don’t like conflict. Investors like stability and certainty, and this is certainly upsetting the apple cart.”

The order adds a levy of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. It exempts Canada and Mexico for now, and there’s an option to add other allies later. Still, Wisconsin manufacturers Harley-Davidson and MillerCoors have expressed opposition to the move, and Harley has been mentioned by other countries as a possible target of retaliatory tariffs.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, said in a statement he was pleased the president included exemptions for some American allies, but “it should go further” and narrow the focus to companies that violate trade law.

“There are unquestionably bad trade practices by nations like China, but the better approach is targeted enforcement against those practices,” Ryan said. “Our economy and our national security are strengthened by fostering free trade with our allies and promoting the rule of law.”

Johnson told reporters Trump was right to be concerned about the overproduction of steel in China, but an across-the-board tariff was the wrong way to go.

He also said he wants Congress to explore pulling back powers it has ceded to the executive branch over the years and require its approval before a president imposes a tariff.

“That’s something we really need to explore,” he said.