WASHINGTON - U.S. lawmakers said on Thursday that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told them he will defer to President Donald Trump on the timing of a decision on new steel import curbs, likely meaning further delays and deliberations on the issue.
Members of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee attending a briefing with Ross said he did not specify a timetable for releasing a long-awaited report that will lay out options for shielding the steel industry from imports on national security grounds.
Ross had originally hoped to release the steel "Section 232" report at the end of June but the timing has slipped amid disagreements among White House aides over the merits of restricting imports that could hurt steel consuming industries.
A House Democratic aide who attended the briefing said Ross repeated President Donald Trump's comments in a Wall Street Journal interview this week that the decision on potential steel tariffs would take more time and could come after congressional debates on health care, tax reform and infrastructure spending.
"I can only follow my leader," the aide said Ross told the briefing.
The Commerce secretary also told lawmakers the issue had a lot of complexities and that he was considering the interests of both steel makers and steel users and concerned about potential trade retaliation against U.S. agricultural products. The lawmakers said Ross told them he was taking a similar approach to a parallel national security probe into aluminum imports.
"I think it's a good sign that they're actually slowing down and taking a long look, not trying to mix this in with these other issues that have to be lifted," said Republican Representative Jackie Walorski.
"I think that Secretary Ross is committed to making sure that we're doing no harm, that we're getting this right. I need it to be right when it comes to aluminum," Walorski said, adding that the recreational vehicle industry in her northern Indiana district does not want to higher aluminum prices due tariffs.
Representative Judy Chu, a California Democrat, said Ross told the lawmakers that the Trump administration also wanted to pursue negotiations with other steel-producing countries to address the problem of excess capacity that was causing a flood of dumped imports.
But Ross and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last week failed to secure commitments from their Chinese counterparts to make specific commitments to cut steel production capacity.
China, which produces half the world's steel, is widely viewed as the source of much of the metal's excess production.