Senate Republicans float legislation to reverse Trump tariffs
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are weighing how to respond to President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups 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 donating unused campaign funds to Arizona nonprofit focused on elections: report Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report 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.

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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 LeeRetreating economy creates new hurdle for Democrats in 2022 McConnell vows GOP won't help raise debt ceiling in December after Schumer 'tantrum' Senate locks in deal to vote on debt ceiling hike Thursday 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 JohnsonA pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Sen. Ron Johnson hoping for Democratic 'gridlock' on reconciliation package Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' 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 HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears 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 RobertsMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call Bob Dole, Pat Roberts endorse Kansas AG Derek Schmidt for governor Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm 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 GardnerColorado remap plan creates new competitive district Protecting the outdoors: Three cheers for America's best idea Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm 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 CollinsSenators ask Biden administration to fund program that helps people pay heating bills McConnell gets GOP wake-up call Republicans are today's Dixiecrats 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 BluntHartzler pulls in 6,000 for Missouri Senate bid with .65M on hand McConnell gets GOP wake-up call The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit 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 McConnellOn The Money — Democrats tee up Senate spending battles with GOP The Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight Treasury to use extraordinary measures despite debt ceiling hike 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 RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE (R-Wis.) said Tuesday that the administration needs “to be more surgical in its approach.”

Meanwhile, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn raises more than M for Senate GOP Is the Biden administration afraid of trade? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit 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.”