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 TrumpTrump calls for Republicans to be 'united' on abortion Tlaib calls on Amash to join impeachment resolution Facebook temporarily suspended conservative commentator Candace Owens 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 CorkerCorker: 'I just don't' see path to challenge Trump in 2020 Ex-GOP Sen. Corker: Trump primary would be 'good thing for our country' Pollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge 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 McConnellOn The Money: Treasury rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns | Companies warn trade war about to hit consumers | Congress, White House to launch budget talks next week | Trump gets deal to lift steel tariffs on Mexico, Canada Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act House Dem cites transgender grandson in voting for Equality Act 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 ThuneHillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group Senate Commerce chair to renew push for regs on self-driving vehicles Hillicon Valley: Facebook co-founder calls for breaking up company | Facebook pushes back | Experts study 2020 candidates to offset 'deepfake' threat | FCC votes to block China Mobile | Groups, lawmakers accuse Amazon of violating children's privacy 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 HatchTrump gambles in push for drug import proposal Biden's role in Anita Hill hearings defended by witness not allowed to testify 'Congress' worst tax idea ever'? Hardly. MORE (R-Utah), who has primary jurisdiction over trade issues, said he “certainly would consider supporting it.”

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeProtesters who went viral confronting Flake cheered at award event Feinstein to introduce bill raising age to purchase assault weapons after California shooting Pollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge 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) TesterGOP angst grows amid Trump trade war Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to Trump border wall from Afghan forces, other accounts 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 SchumerGetting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults 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 GrassleyOvernight Defense: Trump rails against media coverage | Calls reporting on Iran tensions 'highly inaccurate' | GOP senator blocking Trump pick for Turkey ambassador | Defense bill markup next week Trump reaches deal to lift steel, aluminum tariffs on Mexico, Canada Top GOP senator blocking Trump's pick for Turkey ambassador 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 RoundsGOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump On The Money: Wells Fargo CEO steps down | Trump vows to keep funding for Special Olympics | House panel approves marijuana banking bill | Controversial Fed pick gains support in Senate Controversial Fed pick gains support in GOP Senate MORE (R-S.D.) 

“I don’t think the tariff strategy is the appropriate strategy,” said Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran Graham: Trump officials not adequately briefing on Iran threat 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.