Aside from killing the Trans-Pacific Partnership which was already dead in Congress, President Trump’s only actions on the trade front has been the mirror tax on Canadian lumber and the recent announcement of tariffs on solar panels and washing machines. The ‘protectionism’ of the Trump administration has been exaggerated. George W. Bush imposed a tariff on steel imports. Barack Obama imposed a tariff on imported Chinese solar panels.
Senate Republicans are worried that President Trump could act unilaterally on the trade front in an election year in which nothing much is expected to get through Congress:
“Forget the stalemate over immigration and spending. Right now, Republicans are most worried about President Donald Trump’s trade policy.
Fresh off new tariffs aimed at imported washing machines and solar panels, GOP lawmakers fear a round of tariffs targeting steel and aluminum — or worst of all: a sustained attack on NAFTA and dissolution of the trade agreement entirely. Trump’s populist trade policies dominated the Senate GOP’s strategy sessions last week, privately eliciting handwringing from the party’s large bloc of free traders, according to GOP sources familiar with the matter.
As the White House teases a conciliatory approach for Trump’s first State of the Union, Republicans hope he also will offer them an olive branch on one of the most yawning divides between the president and his party. …
Senate Republicans are now circulating a letter addressed to the president asking him to preserve NAFTA, according to GOP officials on Capitol Hill. …
And it’s a reminder that on trade, Trump can largely do what he wants through the executive branch with little recourse from Congress.
“I’ve encouraged him to think of it in terms of modernizing NAFTA, not ending NAFTA,” Cornyn said.
Senate Republicans want President Trump to ‘modernize’ NAFTA, which is to say, preserve the free trade agreement while adding things that business interests wanted but didn’t get in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This would allow Trump to save face with voters and say he ‘renegotiated’ the awful deal for his White working class base without really changing anything.