Trade Cases

Senate Sends Message to Trump on Trade

Written by Sandy Williams

The Senate took a first step on Wednesday to reclaim some of the authority on trade that it has delegated to the president. The Senate passed 88 to 11 a motion to include language in the energy and water appropriation bill that would provide “a role for Congress in making a determination under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.”

The motion is a move toward presenting a bill by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Pat Tooney (R-PA) that would require oversight by Congress on any tariffs the president may wish to impose under Section 232. Although the approved measure is not binding, it is a clear signal that Congress is willing to stand up to the president over trade. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said passage of the measure “underscores the consensus of the Senate – the administration should rethink its approach on Section 232 tariffs.”

“Let’s be clear. This is a rebuke of the president’s abuse of trade authority,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). “I’m so glad that Congress is finally, finally pushing back on this. We have neglected our constitutional role.”

Corker called the motion “a baby step” and said he will continue to push for legislation that will require a vote by Congress before the president can use Section 232, as well as allowing lawmakers to revoke the tariffs already in place on steel and aluminum.

“The Senate spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly expressing support for our efforts to ensure Congress plays its appropriate role in the implementation of national-security-designated tariffs,” said Corker in a statement after the vote. “Tariffs are a tax on the American people, and as the U.S. economy and American businesses and consumers begin to feel the damaging effects of incoherent trade policy, I believe support for our legislation will only grow. We will continue to push for a binding vote and are hopeful one will be scheduled in the near future.”

The bill has gained support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, National Foreign Trade Council, the Club for Growth and the National Taxpayers Union.

All 11 of the no votes were by Republican senators: Sens. David Perdue (R-GA), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Lindsey Graham (SC), Tim Scott (SC), James Inhofe (OK), John Barrasso (WY), Mike Enzi (WY), Jim Risch (ID), Mike Crapo (ID), Dean Heller (NV) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS).

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who blocked a vote of the Corker amendment, surprisingly voted yes on Wednesday’s measure. Brown said he agrees that Congress should have a role in trade policy. “Let me be clear, though,” said Brown, “today’s vote is not a vote for undermining the president’s trade agenda. It’s not a vote to rescind the steel tariffs.”

AISI President Thomas Gibson recently wrote an opinion piece supporting the use of tariffs and quotas, stating that such measures are necessary because antidumping and countervailing laws fail to address the problem of overcapacity and steel dumping.

“We’re just beginning to see the positive results of the president’s actions — domestic production is increasing, steel companies are investing more in communities throughout the country and steel jobs are being added for the first time in years,” wrote Gibson. “Now some in Congress want to undermine Section 232 with no back-up plan for how to address the underlying problem. That is shortsighted and must be stopped.”

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