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Issued: 2018-03-08

By David Martosko, Us Political Editor For

Published: 15:27 EST, 8 March 2018 | Updated: 16:00 EST, 8 March 2018


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Donald Trump signed an order on Thursday imposing steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, after days of guessing games and internal White House battles over whether it's a sound policy.

The president appeared in the Oval Office, flanked by senior officials on one side and a group of steel and aluminum industry workers on the other.

'You are truly the backbone of America, you know that? You are very special people,' he told the blue collar contingent.

'We want a lot of steel coming into our country, but we want it to be fair and we want our workers to be protected.'

Far from being the ironclad, no-compromises national security measures Trump has telegraphed in the past week, the Associated Press reported that every nation in the world will be able to petition the United States for exemptions.

An administration official clarified Thursday that the offer would be somewhat limited.

The administration will 'allow any country with which we have a security relationship to discuss with the United States and the president alternate ways' of protecting America's interests, according to a senior administration official.

The official added that petitioning countries would have to prove that their steel and aluminum exports aren't harming America's national security capabilities.

And 'it doesn't just refer to national defense. It's national security, broadly defined,' the official added.

That measuring stick could encompass anything from protecting domestic steel mills and foundries to guaranteeing the availability of affordable materials for the automotive and aerospace industries.

In a conference call with reporters, the official downplayed the production cost increases that will likely come along with hikes in the net price of raw materials, saying it would add just a few cents to the cost of food cans, and $25,000 to the price of steel to build a Boeing jet that costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

The official waved off mounting evidence that steel and aluminum tariffs will raise retail prices, declaring: 'This is simply fake news.'

President Donald Trump used a cabinet meeting Thursday to announce that Mexico and Canada will be exempted from new steel and aluminum tariffs,and Australia may also get a carve-out – but it later emerged that nearly every nation on earth would be allowed to petition for special treatment

Trump had already said earlier in the day that Mexico and Canada would likely be spared – provided a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement progresses to his liking.

'We're going to cancel NAFTA' if negotiations fail, he said Thursday.

During a Cabinet meeting, Trump raised the possibility that Australia, too, could be exempt from the new tariffs covered under his proclamation.

'We're going to be very flexible,' the president said, while pledging to 'protect the American worker.'

Trump insisted, however, that countries forced to pay the import duties would be charged a 25 per cent premium on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum.

His tariffs will go into effect on March 23.

A senior administration official called the plan both 'a wonderfully flexible document' and a vehicle to 'ensure an ironclad way that we preserve our aluminum and steel industry.'

On Thursday morning it wasn't clear whether the president would have anything to sign by day's end.

The White House had punted Wednesday on the timetable, with Press Secretary Sarah Sanders telling reporters that he was expected to 'sign something by the end of the week.'

Trump tweeted a non-committal message early on Thursday, writing that he was '[l]ooking forward to [a] 3:30 P.M. meeting today at the White House.'

Trump downgraded the signing to a 'meeting' in a cryptic tweet on Thursday morning but the White House later confirmed that he would indeed sign the tariff order

'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.'


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