Pennsylvania’s junior U.S. senator is going toe to toe with President Donald Trump on tariffs.
Republican Pat Toomey, a staunch free trade advocate, held a roundtable discussion in Harrisburg on Tuesday to hear a range of business owners and advocates speak on how the President’s recent spate of tariffs and ensuing trade wars have impacted them.
Trump has so far imposed tariffs on China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and the European Union, over what the administration claims are national security concerns. Trump is also saying the tariffs will bolster the manufacturing industry in the U.S.
At recent campaign rallies, he repeatedly claimed his tariffs had enabled U.S. Steel to open seven new plants and six new mills. The steel company said that is not true.
Toomey has been one of a minority of senators vocally opposing the president’s actions.
“I’m concerned that the goal is not a goal that improves the status quo,” he told reporters.
His Harrisburg discussion featured container manufacturers, hardwood producers, and construction firms, among others. They complained the 25 percent tariffs on steel, in particular, have left them without enough domestic suppliers, and have forced them to pay prohibitive markups for imports.
Domestic steel companies have welcomed the tariffs—but Toomey said he doesn’t think that benefit outweighs damage done to businesses that rely on specialty imports.
“Nobody wants to see steel-producing industries in bad shape,” he said. “But America does produce three quarters of all the steel we consume.”
The roundtable attendees also said when they have requested tariff exemptions from the Commerce Department, they’re usually denied without being told why.
Domestic steel companies often file objections to those exemptions—and Toomey says the process for granting them isn’t transparent.
“Whenever there is an objection lodged to their request for an exclusion, the exclusion is denied,” he noted. “So we’ve got to get more answers and more clarity from Commerce as to what their process is.”
Toomey is currently pushing legislation that would constrain the president’s power on trade. However, he doesn’t have the votes to pass the measure yet.
He’s also trying to ward off the President’s efforts to renegotiate NAFTA.