Flake, McCain criticize Trump plan to raise tariffs on steel, aluminum

President Donald Trump holds up a proclamation on aluminum during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, March 8, 2018. He also signed one for steel. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

PHOENIX — Both Arizona senators criticized President Donald Trump’s plan to raise tariffs on steel and aluminum imported into the United States Thursday.

In a statement, Sen. Jeff Flake said the hike was bad news for the American economy and that he would move to block it immediately.

“Congress cannot be complicit as the administration courts economic disaster,” he said. “I will immediately draft and introduce legislation to nullify these tariffs, and I urge my colleagues to pass it before this exercise in protectionism inflicts any more damage on the economy.”

Sen. John McCain said Trump’s claim that imported metals could be threatening national security was not accurate.

“President Trump’s contention that steel and aluminum imports are threatening our national security and defense industrial base is simply not supported by the evidence,” he said in a statement. “According to the Department of Defense, U.S. military requirements for steel and aluminum each represent only about three percent of U.S. production.”

McCain also said Trump missed an opportunity to put pressure on China.

“President Trump compounded that mistake by forfeiting the opportunity to take targeted action to hold China accountable for its behavior in international trade,” he said. “Instead, he chose to adopt sweeping tariffs that will punish our most important allies and partners all around the world.”

The tariffs were expected to take effect in 15 days.

Both Canada and Mexico will be exempt from the hike indefinitely, as the three nations work to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Other countries may also be granted an exception.

As he has indicated previously, Trump said he would levy tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum.

But he said during a Cabinet meeting earlier Thursday that the penalties would “have a right to go up or down depending on the country and I’ll have a right to drop out countries or add countries. I just want fairness.”

Business leaders, meanwhile, have continued to sound the alarm about the potential economic fallout from tariffs, with the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce raising the specter of a global trade war. That scenario, Tom Donohue said, would endanger the economic momentum from the GOP tax cuts and Trump’s rollback of regulations.

“We urge the administration to take this risk seriously,” Donohue said.

Flake agreed with Donohue, saying that flexible tariffs would create too much uncertainty.

“Trade wars are not won, they are only lost,” he said.