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Trump Expected To Sign Off On Steel And Aluminum Tariffs Despite Controversy


And President Trump is expected to formally order stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum this week. But the details of that order are still not clear. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said today some countries could be exempted from the tariff, including Canada, which is the No. 1 foreign supplier of the metals to the U.S. The stock market, which had been down more than 300 points earlier today, made up ground this afternoon. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us from the White House.

Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good afternoon.

KELLY: All right, so this continues to shift. Now we hear Canada might be exempted. And I'm wondering if that's linked in any way to yesterday's news that Gary Cohn, the president's top economic adviser, announced he's quitting. He has, of course, argued strongly against the tariffs. Any sign that the president might be having second thoughts?

HORSLEY: Well, the president's not indicating that he's really backing down. He spoke to a group of Latino business leaders earlier today and once again expressed his determination to crack down on what he sees as unfair trade practices by the rest of the world. It's pretty much the same thing we've been hearing from the president ever since the campaign.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're going to keep your playing field level so that we don't have outside interests coming in and hurting our country, which they've been doing. They've been doing a lot of that over the last 25 years. And we're doing a lot of things to stop that. And you're seeing that actually already in the numbers.

HORSLEY: I'm not sure what numbers the president's referring to there. The U.S. trade deficit, which he often harps on, actually grew during the president's first year in office by 12 percent. It hit a nine-year high in January. Trump has offered a lot of tough talk on trade but up until now, not a lot of action. That may be about to change.

KELLY: All right, what - the president first announced these tariffs last Thursday, almost a week ago. But there was no executive order for him to sign. What are we waiting for?

HORSLEY: Well, the lawyers have been working on the actual wording of the order. And White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said it should be ready for signing in the next day or two.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: We expect that the president will sign something by the end of the week. And there are potential carve-outs for Mexico and Canada based on national security and possibly other countries as well.

HORSLEY: And Mary Louise, those national security carve-outs are important because the authority for these tariffs is a seldom used 1960s-era law that is designed to protect domestic industries considered vital to national security. The argument is you need steel; you need aluminum to build fighter planes and warships. The counterargument is, unless you think we're going to go to war against Canada, there's no real harm to the U.S. in relying on our neighbor to the north for some of that essential material. So exempting Canada and other allies could significantly soften the blow of these tariffs. But we still don't know just how that might work.

KELLY: Right. Because the president has argued in the past for a blanket tariff on all foreign suppliers, right?

HORSLEY: He has. He's warned that if you exempt one country, like Canada, that just becomes a backdoor for other countries, especially China, to evade the tariff. So he's been reluctant to offer carve-outs. On the other hand, his fellow Republicans have been urging Trump to take a more surgical approach. Here's Congressman Erik Paulsen of Minnesota, who heads the Joint Economic Committee.


ERIK PAULSEN: I do believe that if these tariffs are implemented with a broad brush, it will have the potential to backfire and cost us jobs at home, force consumers to pay higher prices for goods and ultimately hurt our economy.

KELLY: The congressman speaking there, Scott, to what has been the big concern with these tariffs - this threat that they could possibly spark a trade war.

HORSLEY: Right. And there's still a lot of uncertainty, even within the administration. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was in Iowa yesterday, where farmers are heavily dependent on export markets for their corn and their soybeans. He was asked how farmers can protect themselves. And Sonny Perdue said, pray.


HORSLEY: He said, look; President Trump keeps a lot of people off balance. And I think we're going to just stay off balance, at least until we see the details of this tariff order later in the week.

KELLY: If we see it later this week, watch this space. That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.