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story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump listens as Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — Unswayed by Republican warnings of a trade war, President Donald Trump ordered steep new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the U.S. on Thursday, vowing to fight back against an "assault on our country" by foreign competitors. The president said he would exempt Canada and Mexico while negotiating for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The new tariffs will take effect in 15 days, with Canada and Mexico indefinitely exempted "to see if we can make the deal," Trump said. NAFTA talks are expected to resume early next month.

"The American aluminum and steel industry has been ravaged by aggressive foreign trade practices. It's really an assault on our country. It's been an assault," Trump said at the White House. He was joined by steel and aluminum workers holding white hard hats.

American steel and aluminum workers have long been betrayed, but "that betrayal is now over," Trump said. The former real estate developer said politicians had for years lamented the decline in the industries, but nobody was willing to take action.

Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill, who represents Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District, said he respects the president's decision but remains concerned about the tariffs' effects on the state's workers and companies.

"Tokusen U.S.A. in Conway, Arkansas, a company primarily in the business of manufacturing steel tire cord, could be negatively impacted by these across-the-board tariffs, and said the result would be ‘catastrophic’ for their business," a statement from Hill said.

"Steel tariffs didn’t work when President Bush implemented them in 2002 or when President Obama proposed them on tires in 2009," he added.

Arkansas' senior U.S. Sen. John Boozman said he hoped Trump would implement the policy in a way that would not hurt American exporters.

"I certainly agree with President Trump's desire to protect American workers, but I do not believe that applying broad tariffs is the right means to that end," Boozman said in a Thursday afternoon statement. "The economy is doing well as a result of the tax cuts and our efforts to cut regulatory red tape. We do not want to stop that growth by creating an all-out trade war."

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 in the day 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.

The president suggested in the meeting with his Cabinet that Australia and "other countries" might also be spared.

"We're going to be very fair, we're going to be very flexible but we're going to protect the American worker as I said I would do in my campaign," Trump said.

People briefed on the plans ahead of the announcement said all countries affected by the tariffs would be invited to negotiate with the administration to be exempted from the tariffs if they can address the threat their exports pose to U.S. manufacturers. The exemptions for Canada and Mexico could be ended if talks to renegotiate NAFTA stall.

The process of announcing the penalties has been the subject of an intense debate and chaotic exchanges within the White House, pitting hard-liners against free trade advocates such as outgoing economic adviser Gary Cohn.

The fight over tariffs comes amid intense turmoil in the West Wing, which has seen waves of departures and negative news stories that have left Trump increasingly isolated in the Oval Office, according to two senior officials speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.

Congressional Republicans and business groups are bracing for the effect of the tariffs and the departure of Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has opposed them.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, appearing at a session with Home Depot employees in Atlanta, said ahead of Trump's announcement, "I'm just not a fan of broad-based, across-the-board tariffs." He pointed to the store's many products that rely on steel and aluminum.

More than 100 House Republicans wrote Trump on Wednesday, asking him to reconsider "the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences" to the U.S. economy and workers.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, said he plans to introduce legislation next week to nullify the tariffs though he has acknowledged that finding the votes to stop the president's actions could be difficult.

The president has said the tariffs are needed to reinforce lagging American steel and aluminum industries and protect national security.

Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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  • RBear
    March 8, 2018 at 11:23 a.m.

    "We urge you to reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to the U.S. economy and its workers," 107 House Republicans wrote in a letter to Trump.
    That statement speaks volumes as to how poorly thought out this policy change is and the insanity of the Trump WH. I don't often side with Republicans, but on this one I do for economic reasons. It shows how little our president understands economic policy and why one of his "smart people" left the WH to get out of the looney farm.

  • 3WorldState1
    March 8, 2018 at 11:45 a.m.

    Trump is everyone's puppet. Russia, the GOP aka the rich and, porn stars.

  • Illinoisroy
    March 8, 2018 at 12:16 p.m.

    Too bad that he isn't the American people's puppet!

  • Razorbacks901
    March 8, 2018 at 1:42 p.m.

    Only president I can remember that actually is doing what he said he would do in his campaign!! What a new and refreshing concept.

  • 3WorldState1
    March 8, 2018 at 2 p.m.

    Picking winners and losers it seems. GOP used to not like that.
    Great healthcare at a fraction of the cost. Nope
    Great wall Mexico will pay for. Nope.
    Tax cuts to the rich. Yep.
    Infrastructure. Nope
    Supreme court appointee doesn't count. That's McConnell's. A seal could pick from a list.
    Drain the swamp? Made it the worst ever.
    Law and Order? Fighting against it since day one.
    Best people. Nope.
    Release taxes after audit. Nope
    Am I missing other promises he made?

  • carpenterretired
    March 8, 2018 at 9:38 p.m.

    Looks like Arkansans in the chicken business are about to be plucked by Trump, row croppers about to be plowed by Trump , timber people about to be clear cut by Trump ,but then many were foolish enough to vote for Trump.