Mr. Trump’s more moderate advisers have warned him that the tariffs, which are inflicting pain on farmers and manufacturers, could hurt him politically as he heads into re-election. But his more hawkish advisers are pressing him to keep the levies in place until China agrees to make more significant changes to its economic practices, such as ending state subsidies to Chinese companies.
Larry Kudlow, the chairman of the White House’s National Economic Council, told Bloomberg News on Thursday that “if there’s a Phase 1 trade deal, there are going to be tariff agreements and concessions.”
Later in the day, Peter Navarro, one of Mr. Trump’s trade advisers, said that it was too soon to say that tariffs would be rolled back and that the president had not made a decision. In a further sign of internal dissension, Mr. Navarro sent an email to members of the media on Friday in which he lamented that initial reports about a tariff rollback were triggered by “propagandists within the Chinese government.”
“This claim was simply false,” Mr. Navarro said. “There was no such agreement.”
China has made clear it will not agree to a trade deal without some lifting of tariffs. But any easing of levies would open Mr. Trump to criticism from his political opponents, particularly if the United States does not receive major concessions in return. Right now, the trade deal under discussion would require Beijing to buy more farm goods, open certain markets and do more to protect American technology and intellectual property. But it would not resolve some of the bigger concerns about China’s economic practices, including its ongoing subsidization of industries, which allows Chinese companies to grow quickly and sell their products more cheaply.
On Friday, Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader from New York and a longtime China critic, urged the president to keep the pressure on China.
“President Trump shouldn’t be giving in to China unless we get something big in return,” Mr. Schumer said on Twitter.
It is still unclear when and where a deal might be inked.
White House officials had been targeting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Chile later this month as a venue where Mr. Trump and his counterpart, Xi Jinping, could meet and close the deal. That plan was derailed last week when the Chilean government canceled the summit amid political unrest in the country.