President Donald Trump’s calls to implement import tariffs on steel and aluminum goods have made corporate America cringe, including industry leaders within the Business Roundtable who aren’t going down without a fight and intend to lobby the administration to not go ahead with a decision that could lead to a trade war, FOX Business has learned.
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Members of the Business Roundtable (BRT), a group of mainly conservative CEOs from around the United States chaired by JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, have been reaching out to senior White House officials to voice their concern with the president’s shocking announcement to enact steel and aluminum tariffs in an attempt to change his mind, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
“Business Roundtable is communicating with the White House, and there are, and will be CEO-level conversations taking place directly with the administration,” a person close to the organization’s leadership told FOX Business. “The topics include tariffs and the international trade policy agenda more broadly,” the source added.
While it remains unclear which White House officials will speak with BRT representatives in the coming days, the likely points of contact would be those on both sides of what’s turning into a White House policy trade war including National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, who’s been said to oppose the administration’s potential new policy, and Senior White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro, one of the orchestrators of Trump’s trade declaration.
For BRT negotiators, their side’s CEO, Joshua Bolten, would be the likely choice to meet with White House advisers, as he was the chief of staff to George W. Bush. But another possible point of contact could be one of the group’s more senior members in Blackstone Chairman Steve Schwarzman.
Schwarzman, a major contributor to Trump’s 2016 election and a recent financial backer of his 2020 re-election efforts, was seen on Friday having dinner with the president at Mar-a-Lago along with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, among others, the day after the bombshell announcement and, according to those present, one of the points of discussion was about the impact tariffs could have on the business community.
“Business Roundtable CEOs are making the case directly to President Trump and his trade and economic policy advisors," a BRT spokeswoman told FOX Business. "We’re also working with Congress to ensure members understand the impact that tariffs and other restrictive trade policies will have on the millions of employees our members employ across all sectors of the economy," the spokeswoman added.
A spokeswoman for Schwarzman declined to comment. A spokesperson for the White House did not return calls for comment. A spokeswoman for Giuliani also did not return calls for comment.
Since Thursday’s seemingly last-minute decision to move forward with 25% import tariffs on steel and 10% on aluminum, BRT has led the critical charge from the business world.
Initially, Bolten said in a statement that his group disagreed with the announcement because "it will hurt the U.S. economy and American companies, workers and consumers by raising prices and resulting in foreign retaliation against U.S. exporters.” But he didn’t hold back his criticism there.
On Fox News Sunday, he seemed to call for Navarro to lose his job if there’s a trade war between the U.S. and its allies.
"I don't know if Peter Navarro would be willing to bet his job that he is right that there won't be retaliation, but he ought to be willing to make that bet, because he's betting the jobs of tens of thousands of Americans,” Bolten told Chris Wallace on Sunday.
The president for his part seemed to back down a bit on Monday after feeling the pressure from members of the Wall Street community when he tweeted that he would take off the import tariffs if the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is renegotiated.
“Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed,” Trump said.
The White House, though, pushed backed on the idea that the tweet signaled any change in potential policy.
“There’s no backing off from this in the sense that this is the minimum we need from defending our industries from extinction,” Navarro told Stuart Varney on FOX Business on Monday.
The administration has yet to unveil any form of policy white paper, but Trump noted last week that he would present his administration’s official proposal in the coming days.