Senate Republicans float legislation to reverse Trump tariffs
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are weighing how to respond to President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE's floated tariffs, including potentially passing new legislation to rein him in if he moves forward with the plan.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March Outgoing GOP rep: Republican Party 'heading into trouble' in election MORE (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday said Congress should look at trying to “box in” what tariffs a president can impose on imported materials.

“I would like to see what we can do for him imposing tariffs and that should be something Congress does, not the president,” Flake said, adding that he didn’t think the steel and aluminum tariffs floated by Trump meet the national security qualifications under Section 232 of the trade law.

Trump’s decision to push forward with tariffs on imported steel and aluminum has roiled Capitol Hill, where Republicans are pleading publicly for him to at least narrow the forthcoming financial penalties.

But Trump appeared to double down on his tariff plan Tuesday stressing that he will move forward despite warnings from GOP lawmakers and even some of his own advisers.

Flake noted that GOP Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Prison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections Grassley ‘incensed’ by Sessions criticism of proposed sentencing reform legislation MORE (Utah) has introduced legislation that would limit a president’s ability to unilaterally make trade policy.

“Congress has delegated its authority in this area to the executive branch in great abundance over the last century or so,” Lee told Forbes on Tuesday. “This legislation would seek to return some trade authority to Congress as a way to protect against unilateral decisions from the executive branch.”

Lee’s legislation would require congressional approval for Trump’s trade actions, including tariffs.

The legislation was introduced last year. But a spokesman for Lee, asked if he’s spoken to other senators following Trump’s tariff announcement, said on Tuesday that the Utah Republican “has talked with many of his colleagues about the bill.”

GOP Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonTrump spars with GOP lawmakers on steel tariffs Overnight Regulation: Trump unveils budget | Sharp cuts proposed for EPA, HHS | Trump aims to speed environmental reviews | Officials propose repealing most of methane leak rule Trump budget seeks savings through ObamaCare repeal MORE (Wis.) told reporters on Tuesday that he would support new legislation if Trump pushes forward with his tariff plan. And Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Finance: NAFTA defenders dig in | Tech pushes Treasury to fight EU on taxes | AT&T faces setback in merger trial | Dems make new case against Trump tax law | Trump fuels fight over gas tax What sort of senator will Mitt Romney be? Not a backbencher, even day one Lawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves MORE (R-Utah) told reporters on Monday that Congress could take action in response to the tariffs — but declined to say what those potential actions would be.

Asked what legislative response Congress should consider if Trump levies a blanket tariff on steel and aluminium imports, GOP Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsOvernight Finance: Lawmakers, Treasury look to close tax law loopholes | Trump says he backs gas tax hike | Markets rise despite higher inflation | Fannie Mae asks for .7B Senators working on fix to agriculture provision in GOP tax law Trump budget would slash crop insurance funds for farmers MORE (Kan.) also mentioned Lee’s bill, noting it would require the administration to detail what potential retaliatory actions the United States could face.  

“There was legislation introduced, I think before this happened, stating that it would be appropriate for those who are considering a tariff to also consider and itemize what retaliation would be forthcoming. ... That’s pretty important,” Roberts said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe siren of Baton Rouge Senate confirms John Demers to head DOJ national security division Senate rejects bipartisan measure as immigration votes begin MORE (R-Colo.) — the chairman of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm — told Bloomberg that he has “no doubt Congress would be forced to act” if Trump enacts the tariffs.

"There is a series of legislative actions that could be taken to reverse the decision, obviously with the president supporting them they would have to be done in a way that would overcome any action that he would take, but we still have time,” he said.

Limiting Trump’s trade authority would mark a drastic break in the sometimes frayed relationship between congressional Republicans and the president. It’s unclear if GOP lawmakers would be willing to take such a step.

Republican Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand FCC to officially rescind net neutrality rules on Thursday MORE (Maine) floated that Congress might be able to do a resolution of disapproval of Trump's tariffs, but appeared skeptical that it could get the votes to make it “binding.”

Asked about Lee’s legislation, Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntRussian assault on 'American idea' enables Trump to take tough action Eleven lawmakers have used campaign funds to pay NRA dues: report Kimmel writer tweets amount NRA has given lawmakers in response to shooting prayers MORE (R-Mo.) said Tuesday, “I don’t think we’re at the point [where] we need to consider that bill, yet.”

Blunt also appeared skeptical that the administration would be able to prove that broad tariffs on steel and aluminum imports were tied to national security.

“He has the authority to levy the tariffs, but anybody has the authority to go to court and see if it meets the standard,” Blunt said.

GOP leadership has focused on publicly and privately warning Trump that the tariffs could wipe away the economic gains sparked by the GOP tax law only months before the midterm election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) broke his silence on Tuesday saying he and other Republicans are concerned and “urging caution” as the administration finalizes its plan.

"I think the best way to characterize where most Republican senators are right now, including myself, is genuine concern that this not escalate into something much broader," McConnell told reporters on Tuesday.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRepublicans are avoiding gun talks as election looms The Hill's 12:30 Report Flake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan MORE (R-Wis.) said Tuesday that the administration needs “to be more surgical in its approach.”

Meanwhile, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, floated that the Senate Finance Committee should hold hearings, while Hatch, the panel’s chairman, sent a letter to Trump saying he has “very deep concerns.”