President Trump signs a proclamation on steel imports on Thursday,...

President Trump signs a proclamation on steel imports on Thursday, March 8, 2018. He also signed one for aluminum. Credit: AP / Susan Walsh

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed off on a pair of tariffs on foreign aluminum and steel on Thursday, defying repeated calls from Republican leaders to reconsider imposing the import taxes, which they fear will set off a global trade war.

“The actions we’re taking today are not a matter of choice . . . they’re a matter of necessity for our security,” Trump said at a signing ceremony at the White House held shortly after 3:30 p.m.

Trump, speaking to reporters earlier in the day, said Canada and Mexico would be excluded from the 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum, and said he would be “very flexible” about exempting other foreign allies.

“I’ll 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,” Trump told reporters gathered for the president’s morning Cabinet meeting. “I just want fairness because we have not been treated fairly by other countries.”

Trump signed the pair of tariffs in a Roosevelt Room ceremony attended by steel and aluminum industry workers. He described the nation’s metal mills and factories as having been “left to rot and to rust,” and said the steel and aluminum industries have been “ravaged by aggressive foreign trade practices.”

“It’s really an assault on our country,” Trump said.

Leading up to Thursday’s tariff signing ceremony, Republicans continued to press the president to abandon his proposal. On Wednesday, 107 House Republicans signed a letter to Trump, urging him “to reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to the U.S. economy and its workers.”

Shortly after Trump authorized the tariffs, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) announced he will “introduce legislation to nullify these tariffs,” saying the tariffs “are a marriage of two lethal poisons to economic growth — protectionism and uncertainty.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a Trump ally, said the tariffs are “a tax hike on American manufacturers, workers and consumers.”

“Slapping aluminum and steel imports with tariffs of this magnitude is misguided,” Hatch said in a statement.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), speaking on CNN on Thursday morning, called Trump’s tariff plan “risky” and “dangerous.”

“I don’t believe anybody wins a trade war, quite honestly,” Johnson said. “There may be people that are harmed less, maybe America is in a better position, but I think there’s so much collateral damage, I think it’s a risky and dangerous strategy.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a speech delivered on the Senate floor, said Trump should “rethink these tariffs and focus his policy more directly at China and countries that ship cheap Chinese steel to the U.S.”

“Instead of getting right at China, the president’s across-the-board tariffs will cause more damage to key allies and other domestic industries,” Schumer said.

Trump defended the tariffs as a necessary step in protecting the country’s steel and aluminum industries in the interest of national security. The president, citing a report issued last month by the Department of Commerce, has said the influx of foreign metal imports have forced steel and aluminum manufacturers in the United States to downsize their operations.

“We have to protect & build our Steel and Aluminum Industries while at the same time showing great flexibility and cooperation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military,” Trump wrote in a Thursday morning tweet.

Trump, speaking to reporters before his Cabinet meeting, said Australia and other countries who cooperate militarily with the United States could be exempted from the tariffs.

“We’ll be making a decision as to who they are,” Trump said. “We have a very close relationship with Australia. We have a trade surplus with Australia. Great country, long-term partner. We’ll be doing something with them. We’ll be doing something with some other countries.”

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