Senate Republicans float legislation to reverse Trump tariffs
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are weighing how to respond to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump orders US troops back to active duty for coronavirus response Trump asserts power to decide info inspector general for stimulus gives Congress Fighting a virus with the wrong tools 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 FlakeMcSally campaign to suspend TV ads, canvassing amid pandemic Coronavirus isn't the only reason Congress should spend less time in DC Trump Jr. says he inherited 'Tourette's of the thumbs' from his father 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 LeeTrump on Romney's negative coronavirus test: 'I am so happy I can barely speak' Romney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine Paul defends actions before coronavirus diagnosis, calls for more testing 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 JohnsonGOP seeks up to 0 billion to maximize financial help to airlines, other impacted industries Dr. Rand Paul's prescription for combating the coronavirus crisis Senate passes House's coronavirus aid bill, sending it to Trump 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 HatchBottom line Bottom line Trump administration backs Oracle in Supreme Court battle against Google 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 RobertsCoronavirus stimulus talks hit setback as crisis deepens Garth Brooks accepts Library of Congress's Gershwin Prize for Popular Song GOP, Democrats hash out 2020 strategy at dueling retreats 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 GardnerRomney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine Senate GOP super PAC books more than million in fall ads The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Markets expected to plunge amid partisan squabbling 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 CollinsCampaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus Senate eyes quick exit after vote on coronavirus stimulus package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Trump, Dems close in on deal 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 BluntHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Senate Democrats vow to keep pushing for more funds for mail-in voting Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill 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 McConnellHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Trump signs T coronavirus relief package Pelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing 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 RyanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Pelosi administration It's not populism that's killing America's democracy MORE (R-Wis.) said Tuesday that the administration needs “to be more surgical in its approach.”

Meanwhile, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCuban says he'd spank daughter if she was partying during coronavirus pandemic Twitter comes under fire over Chinese disinformation on coronavirus NBA owner Mark Cuban to Senate: 'Do your f---ing job' 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.”