Trade Cases

Senate Bills Seek to Rein in Presidential Tariff Power

Written by Sandy Williams

Support is growing in the Senate to block President Trump’s use of Section 232 tariffs that have alienated the U.S. from its allies and the world, claims Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN).

Corker has proposed a bill that would curtail Trump’s trade authority by requiring congressional approval for the imposition of tariffs for national security purposes. After failing to get the bill attached to a defense bill on June 12, Corker called out his GOP colleagues for their fear of upsetting the president before the midterm elections. “We might poke the bear,” said Corker sarcastically. “My gosh, if the president gets upset with us then we might not be in the majority, so let’s don’t do anything that might upset the president.’”

In comments June 24 on Face the Nation, Corker said he is hoping for a “jailbreak” by his GOP colleagues and “that we will move towards passing this legislation.”

“The president broadly has used Section 232 of the Trade Act, which is for national security,” said Corker. “It’s absolutely an abuse of his authority. It’s being used against our European allies, Canada, Mexico, and many other countries. It has successfully united the world against us. There’s not a person at the White House that can articulate why they are doing this, other than to create leverage on NAFTA.”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) threw his support behind Corker and said he was willing to block judicial nominees until the Senate votes on a bill to limit the president’s authority to impose tariffs. Flake said in an interview on ABC’s This Week, “I think myself and a number of senators, at least a few of us, will stand up and say — let’s not move any more judges until we get a vote, for example, on tariffs.

“The Senate ought to bring legislation to the floor that says, ‘Hey, we’re going push back here.’ I’m sorry, you’re misusing 232; Canada and Mexico are not national security threats. The European Union exporting cars to the U.S. does not represent a national security threat, and [we] ought to push back. And if we don’t, why are we there?” Flake said.

Corker’s bill is also receiving support from business and agricultural groups. In a June 26 letter, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, representing a coalition of hundreds of national and state organizations, urged the Senate to support the Corker bill to rein in the president’s authority to impose tariffs unilaterally. “The U.S. business and agriculture communities are deeply concerned that the president’s unrestricted use of Section 232 to impose tariffs may not be in the national interest,” wrote the Chamber.

“As you know, Article I of the Constitution assigns the Congress exclusive authority to regulate foreign trade and levy taxes, including tariffs. The Congress used this power to delegate to the president the authority to impose tariffs, without Congressional oversight, to safeguard national security in the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. While the president should still have this type of authority, the current circumstances highlight the need for Congress to ensure that the authority will be used, as intended by the Congress, in the overall national interest.”    

On June 21, Senate Finance Committee member Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced a narrower bill that would lift the Section 232 sanctions on Mexico, Canada and the European Union. “These tariffs target our allies, do nothing to stop China from undercutting American steel workers, and subject Colorado’s farmers, businesses and families to potential retaliation,” Bennet said in a statement. “Congress delegated to the president tools to address unfair trade practices that hurt American workers, but these tools should not be used to start a reckless trade war with our closest allies.”

The Bennet bill would require the administration to consult with Congress before tariffs could be issued in the name of national security. The bill would remove the steel and aluminum tariffs from Canada, Mexico and the EU and restore any AD/CVD duties that were originally in place.

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