Trump hints at steel tariff flexibility for 'real friends'

President Trump hinted that he would sign controversial tariffs on imports of aluminum and steel Thursday, but also suggested flexibility for “real friends” abroad who treat the U.S. fairly.

At a Cabinet meeting Thursday afternoon, Trump told reporters that he was intending to stick with the 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent on aluminum ahead of an expected announcement later in the day.

But there had been mixed messages from the White House surrounding if and when Trump would sign the tariffs.

No event was listed on the White House schedule, and officials told Fox News there would likely be no tariff event on Thursday, despite the White House having confirmed on Wednesday there would be a signing ceremony.

But in a tweet Thursday morning, Trump indicated that an event with industry leaders was still on.

“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,” he said.

The White House said last week that there would be no exemptions to the tariffs -- 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum -- but both White House officials and Trump himself indicated differently this week.

Officials said Wednesday that Mexico and Canada would be exempt from the tariffs as part of negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and Trump himself had hinted at other exemptions.

In a press conference alongside Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven on Tuesday, he had cushioned threats of a 25 percent tax on European cars in response to E.U. countermeasures with a hint that he could also exempt the E.U. from his planned tariffs if there was a like-for-like reduction from the bloc.


“Unless they can do something for us, as an example if the E.U. takes off some of the horrible barriers that make it impossible for our product to go into there, then we can start talking, otherwise we’ll leave it the way it is,” he said.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that, in a call to British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump disagreed with May’s assessment that the tariffs would be dangerous but concluded by telling her he had not made a final decision on what to do.

Trump has been under pressure both at home and abroad over his tariff plans. A number of top Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have expressed concern about the proposals. Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn, who had been a firm opponent of protectionist measures, announced his resignation this week.

Fox News’ Blake Burman and John Roberts contributed to this report.