Republican lawmakers eager to halt a new round of tariffs on Mexican goods next week have spent days urging the Trump administration to negotiate a solution with Mexico’s government. 

But President Donald Trump is making clear he has no intention of cutting a quick face-saving deal, warning on Twitter late Tuesday that he’s not “bluffing” in his threat to impose 5 per cent tariffs on all imports from Mexico starting June 10.

That’s raised the stakes for a meeting on Wednesday between Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard and White House officials that may be Mexico’s best chance to offer concrete steps to curb the flow of migrants into the U.S.

Most Senate Republicans have objected to Trump’s use of tariffs to force tougher border enforcement by Mexico, questioning the president’s choice of legal authority and weighing moves by Congress to block the levies.

Yet with Congress leaving town on Wednesday and little they can do to prevent the first 5 per cent tariffs, they are waging a private and public pressure campaign to make Trump understand how damaging this would be to the livelihood of many Republican voters, the economy as a whole and even to the president’s re-election campaign.

The Mexican foreign ministry said Ebrard is scheduled to meet with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Wednesday. The White House did not respond to requests to confirm meeting participants.


Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, said he spoke with Trump Sunday about the Mexico tariffs and described him as “dug-in.”

“He’s as serious as four heart attacks and a stroke,” Kennedy told reporters at the Capitol. “A 5% tariff isn’t going to break the bank. A 25 per cent tariff is a different story, but we are a long way from there.”

White House Deputy Counsel Patrick Philbin was deployed to Tuesday’s Senate Republican lunch, where he faced strong opposition to Trump’s tariff plan, according to those present.

“There is not much support in my conference," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after the lunch. “We’re hoping that doesn’t happen.”

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy also expressed hope that the White House can resolve the immigration dispute with Mexico to avoid the worst of the tariffs.

“I believe that at the end of the day we will get to a solution that solves our problem,” McCarthy said.

Emergency Declaration

There are ways Congress could undercut Trump’s legal authority for the tariffs, but not before Monday when the first 5% round is set to take effect.

If the White House says the justification for the tariffs rests on Trump’s declaration of a national emergency from earlier this year, Congress could revive a resolution of disapproval that already passed both chambers but failed to get enough votes in the House to override Trump’s veto.

If the White House declares a new national emergency, Congress could pass a new resolution of disapproval -- effectively removing the provision Trump would cite to have the power to impose tariffs.

The question is whether Congress would have enough Republicans on board this time to overrule Trump’s veto. That would take roughly 20 Republican senators and 55 Republican representatives would have to stand up to the president -- and their constituents who support him.

Senator Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, predicted that at least 20 Senate Republicans would oppose Trump on Mexico tariffs.

“You’ve heard of people who are war weary,” Cramer said. “Senate Republicans are tariff weary.”


Congress has other ways of exerting pressure. Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, suggested he won’t begin consideration of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement if the Mexico tariffs are put in place. Grassley used a similar threat to convince the White House to drop tariffs on steel and aluminum from Mexico and Canada earlier this year.

Grassley said while he opposes tariffs as the tool to get there, “my goals on immigration are exactly the same as the president; my goals on USMCA are exactly the same.”

“I just want to help the president with everything he wants to do,” said Grassley, who met with the Mexican foreign minister Tuesday.

Ebrard also met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to discuss Mexico’s plan to change its labor laws, a key demand of House Democrats to secure passage of the USMCA.

Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who participated in the meeting, said he was “optimistic” about the trade deal after talking to the Mexican delegation.

“We are moving along even though the administration appears to be trying to blow this up,” Cuellar said.

--With assistance from Daniel Flatley.