Senate

Senate Republicans float legislation to reverse Trump tariffs

Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are weighing how to respond to President Trump’s floated tariffs, including potentially passing new legislation to rein him in if he moves forward with the plan.

Sen. Jeff Flake (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.

{mosads}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 Lee (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 Johnson (Wis.) told reporters on Tuesday that he would support new legislation if Trump pushes forward with his tariff plan. And Sen. Orrin Hatch (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 Roberts (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 Gardner (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 Collins (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 Blunt (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 McConnell (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 Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday that the administration needs “to be more surgical in its approach.”

Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn (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.”

Tags Cory Gardner Donald Trump Jeff Flake John Cornyn Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Orrin Hatch Pat Roberts Paul Ryan Ron Johnson Roy Blunt Susan Collins

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