Trade Cases

Brown Blocks Corker Amendment on Section 232

Written by Sandy Williams

The Corker amendment to require congressional approval of Section 232 tariffs by the administration has been denied a vote in the Senate despite receiving unanimous consent.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a strong supporter of the U.S. steel industry and the Section 232 tariffs, blocked the Senate vote arguing that adding the amendment to a new farm bill would prevent the bill’s passage, while depriving the administration of an important tool for trade enforcement.

“The amendment would gut one of our trade enforcement tools, a tool Congress passed and enhanced in the Finance Committee just in the last couple of years — passed to ensure we protect the industries necessary to defend our country,” Brown said on the Senate floor.

“I know my colleague from Tennessee generally opposes the president’s trade agenda,” he continued. “I think he does that from an intellectually honest position. But that is not justification for completely undoing a decades-old statute that is one of the few tools we have to defend national security interests against distortions in the global market.”

Brown added that tariffs will spur comprehensive action against China’s steel overcapacity and market distorting measures. “Steel overcapacity is a global problem. It needs a global solution,” he said. “If we don’t take a more comprehensive action, China will cheat their way into those other markets.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) scoffed at the idea that the Section 232 tariffs have anything to do with China’s overcapacity. “It has nothing to do with China. China is being punished by 201 and 301 and we’re punishing our allies by abusing a national security section called 232,” he said.

His argument was supported by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) who pointed to the animosity the tariffs are causing among U.S. allies. “We’d be better able to address the things like the theft of intellectual property and coerced technology transfer if our allies were working with us to address that outrageous behavior,” Toomey said on the Senate floor, referring to the findings of the Office of U.S. Trade Representative’s Section 301 report on Chinese IP and technology transfer practices. “But it’s harder to get your allies to work with you when you are hitting them with tariffs and the excuse is national security.”

Corker argued that Senate members should be allowed to vote “on something that could ease and stop the pain that’s being inflicted on our country by a trade policy that is not coherent” and is “damaging farmers more than 20 Farm Bills could make up for.”

Brown countered that the amendment needs a hearing and debate before the Senate makes what would be a significant policy shift.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in comments on Tuesday that he supported Senate hearings and Finance Committee discussion on the use of tariffs by the president. “Just look at my state, for example,” he told Politico Live. “We make Toyota Camrys. And the price of steel seems to be headed up. We’re the home of bourbon — proudly — and the price of bourbon seems to be headed up. So, there is concern. We’ve all discussed this with the president a lot. And there may be a legislative solution to it, and Orrin [Hatch] is working on that and I’ll take a look at it.” 


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