As President Trump's assumed announcement of the implementation of steel and aluminum tariffs draws closer, Republicans are splitting over the issue. The president's mind seems made up, but some free-trade members of the GOP are holding out hope that Vice President Mike Pence can change Mr. Trump's mind.
In public, Pence, the ever-loyal subordinate, has been supportive of President Trump's decision, but Politico reports that behind the closed doors of the White House, it is a different story. Per the report, the vice president is among the members of the faction of White House aides and advisors that has pushed Trump to reconsider.
The proposed tariffs have sparked a backlash by free-trade Republicans. Speaker Paul Ryan was among the first Republicans to speak out, warning against “unintended consequences” of the move at a press conference on Tuesday. On Wednesday, 107 House Republicans signed a letter that cautioned that the tariffs could undermine the benefits of the president's tax and regulatory reforms. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump has been resolute.
Mike Pence's style has been different from the overt-yet-respectful confrontation by other Republicans. The vice president seems to take care to avoid being critical of Mr. Trump or his policies in public, a tactic that may be specifically tailored to a president who seems to value loyalty above all else.
Some view Pence's low-key approach as weakness, but avoiding open confrontation with the president on contentious issues may help preserve the vice president's influence with Mr. Trump. The administration has had a high rate of turnover for people who disagree with the president. Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, recently resigned after President Trump announced the tariff plan over his objections.
For those on Trump's bad side who remain, the president can make it very difficult to do their jobs. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has faced months of withering attacks and insults from the president that stem from his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
President Trump's announcement of tariffs last week was unplanned and caught his staff by surprise. Since the plan had yet to be written, there was still room for free-trade voices within the administration to attempt to the mitigate the economic damage done by the new policy.
President Trump tweeted this morning about a White House meeting at 3:30 p.m. and hinted that the formal announcement for the tariff plan will be made at that time. At that point, the world will find out how much influence Pence and the other free-trade members of the administration have.