GOP support growing for anti-Trump trade bill

GOP support growing for anti-Trump trade bill
© Greg Nash

GOP support for legislation limiting President TrumpDonald John TrumpAl Gore: Trump has had 'less of an impact on environment so far than I feared' Trump claims tapes of him saying the 'n-word' don't exist Trump wanted to require staffers to get permission before writing books: report MORE’s authority to impose tariffs is growing even as Republicans express wariness about escalating an intraparty trade fight with the White House months before the midterm elections.

Senate Republicans are starting to rally around a bill backed by Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP leaders: No talk of inviting Russia delegation to Capitol Collins and Murkowski face recess pressure cooker on Supreme Court Tougher Russia sanctions face skepticism from Senate Republicans MORE (R-Tenn.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.) that would require congressional approval before the president invokes national security concerns to impose new tariffs.

It’s possible the bill could win enough support to be added as an amendment to must-pass legislation, at least raising the possibility it could get to Trump’s desk.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report Republican strategist: Trump is 'driven by ego' Senate GOP campaign arm asking Trump to endorse McSally in Arizona: report MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said he would not bring the bill to a floor vote as stand-alone legislation, but acknowledged it might win support as an amendment to legislation such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).


“What I’m in favor of is getting bills passed that we have to do for the country. NDAA is certainly one of them, but it is open to amendment and we’ll see what happens as it moves across the floor,” McConnell said.  

Just voting on legislation to curb Trump’s trade powers would be a risky move for the GOP.

Republicans are facing headwinds in the midterm elections, some of them historic given that the president’s party usually loses seats in the first midterm of the administration.

Battling with Trump over one of his signature issues risks depressing turnout by GOP voters and turning attention to strife within the party.

Trump barraged McConnell with criticism last summer after the majority leader failed to pass a bill repealing ObamaCare, and few doubt he’d attack fellow Republicans again.

“The bill would probably get the support of almost the entire conference, but the leadership doesn’t want to poke the bear,” one GOP lawmaker said of leadership’s reluctance to antagonize Trump.

Yet the anger within the GOP conference over Trump’s aggressive trade actions may make the tariff legislation impossible to resist.

“I don’t think there’s a big gap among Republican senators when it comes to the policy on trade, but whether or not this is the time to have that fight I think is probably more the question,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneEx-Trump adviser: Shutdown 'not worst idea in the world' 74 protesters charged at Capitol in protest of Kavanaugh Senate clears 4B ‘minibus’ spending measure MORE (S.D.), the third-ranking member of the Senate GOP leadership. 

Corker said there’s fear of how Trump might react to a messy trade battle with his own party.

“For the policy, there’s overwhelming support. I think people are concerned about Trump’s response,” said the senator, who is retiring at the end of this Congress.

The bill would amend the 1962 Trade Expansion Act, which allows the president under Section 232 to impose new tariffs if he believes they are in the interest of national security.

Trump used the statute to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from around the globe and has threatened to do so to limit imports of foreign cars.

The aggressive use of Section 232 has prompted a furious pushback from trading partners and members of Trump’s own party, many of whom question how imports of Volkswagons, Hondas and Kias are a threat to national security.

The fact that a number of foreign carmakers have plants in the United States is another sensitive factor.

Corker’s bill would require Congress to pass a resolution of approval before the president imposes new tariffs and would keep in place the other requirements the chief executive must meet before levying fees. 

He and other supporters note the Constitution explicitly empowers Congress to impose and collect tariffs and duties and regulate international commerce.

Toomey, one of the Senate’s leading free-market advocates, said Tuesday he will back Corker’s legislation.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTop Republicans concerned over impact of potential Trump drug rule The Hill's Morning Report — Trump to GOP: I will carry you Treasury releases proposed rules on major part of Trump tax law MORE (R-Utah), who has primary jurisdiction over trade issues, said he “certainly would consider supporting it.”

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSenate GOP campaign arm asking Trump to endorse McSally in Arizona: report Arpaio says he misheard Sacha Baron Cohen questions Election Countdown: Takeaways from too-close-to-call Ohio special election | Trump endorsements cement power but come with risks | GOP leader's race now rated as 'toss-up' | Record numbers of women nominated | Latino candidates get prominent role in 2020 MORE (R-Ariz.) said there’s a good chance the Corker bill could muster enough votes to pass the Senate as an amendment.

“There’s great concern,” he said. “The cost of the tariffs — not just the cost to average families in terms of consumer goods but the cost in terms of relationships with allies — this is bad policy.”

It’s unclear how much support the legislation would win from Democrats.

Some members of the party expressed enthusiasm for the idea.

“Fundamentally, if we’re talking about empowering Congress, you bet,” said Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterMontana GOP Senate hopeful touts Trump's support in new ad Vulnerable Dems side with Warren in battle over consumer bureau The Memo: Trump roars into rally season MORE (D-Mont.), who is up for reelection in a state that Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate Democrats should stop playing politics on Kavanaugh Montana GOP Senate hopeful touts Trump's support in new ad Strong job growth drives home choice for voters this election MORE (N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday there would likely be “some” backing in his caucus for the legislation, but that he wanted to review the bill before taking a position on it. 

The proposal would need strong Democratic support to make up for Republican “no” votes.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyArchivist rejects Democrats' demand for Kavanaugh documents Kavanaugh recommended against Clinton indictment in 1998: report Russian meddling on social media happens on both the right and left MORE (R-Iowa) said he wants to protect Trump’s ability to invoke national security to impose tariffs, even though retaliatory measures are likely to hurt his home state.

Mexico announced Tuesday it will impose a 20 percent tariff on American pork, which is bad news for Iowa, by far the state that produces the most pork.

Some Republicans worry about what the endgame would be if Trump vows to threaten the defense or farm bills because of controversial trade language.

“When it comes to trade we have a disagreement in that we’re not exactly sure what the endgame is here,” said Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsTougher Russia sanctions face skepticism from Senate Republicans EPA’s Wheeler gets warmer welcome at Senate hearing Tenn. Republicans to go on offense against Dem MORE (R-S.D.) 

“I don’t think the tariff strategy is the appropriate strategy,” said Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenate GOP campaign arm asking Trump to endorse McSally in Arizona: report When it comes to drone tech, wildfire officials need the rights tools for the job Rubio slams Google over plans to unveil censored Chinese search engine MORE (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

He cautioned, however, that “any legislative action that Congress passes must be signed by the president, so there’s a unique challenge to a legislative approach.”

Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, declined to say whether Trump would veto the defense bill if it limited Trump’s power to impose tariffs.

“We haven’t seen it,” he said of Corker’s proposal. “He’s talked to you all about it in the press, I know, but we haven’t seen the actual text.” 

Jordain Carney contributed.