WASHINGTON -- The White House is downplaying a threat from President Donald Trump to impose a new import tax, following hard-to-follow comments that had some trade-watchers befuddled about what he might be planning.

"There is nothing formal in the works right now," a senior administration official said Tuesday.

"He was simply reiterating the same sentiments he's been saying about reciprocal trade for years."

The president confused many trade analysts Monday with remarks about a new tax.

Trump said there would be details in the coming days about something he called a "reciprocal tax" on imports -- and he complained about the trade practices of Canada, China and other countries in making the threat.

The comments were confusing for several reasons: Congress sets taxes, not the president; Congress rejected the idea of an import tax in its recent fiscal reform; the president's newly released budget proposal doesn't even mention the idea.

That doesn't mean other trade skirmishes aren't bubbling. The U.S. has just announced preliminary duties on pipe imports, including from Canada, in the latest example of ramped-up use of punitive measures since Trump took office.