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 suggests Sotomayor, Ginsburg should have to recuse themselves on 'Trump related' cases Sanders says idea he can't work with Republicans is 'total nonsense' Sanders releases list of how to pay for his proposals 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 CorkerMcConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial RNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight MORE (R-Tenn.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight 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 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 McConnellSchumer on Trump intel shakeup: 'Disgrace,' 'closer to a banana republic' Bottom Line The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders's momentum puts Democrats on edge 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 ThuneGOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran 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 administration backs Oracle in Supreme Court battle against Google Timeline: Trump and Romney's rocky relationship Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock MORE (R-Utah), who has primary jurisdiction over trade issues, said he “certainly would consider supporting it.”

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally ties Democratic rival Kelly to Sanders in new ad McSally launches 2020 campaign Sinema will vote to convict Trump 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) TesterDemocratic senator: 'The ultimate of ironies' for Trump to hit Romney for invoking his faith Committee on Veterans Affairs sends important message during tense Senate time Democrats cry foul over Schiff backlash 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 SchumerWhite House asking Congress for .5 billion to fight coronavirus Hillicon Valley: Agencies play catch-up over TikTok security concerns | Senate Dems seek sanctions on Russia over new election meddling | Pentagon unveils AI principles Senate Democrats urge Trump administration to impose sanctions on Russia for election interference 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 GrassleyMcSally unveils bill to lower drug prices amid tough campaign Ernst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case 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 RoundsOvernight Defense: Pentagon policy chief resigns at Trump's request | Trump wishes official 'well in his future endeavors' | Armed Services chair warns against Africa drawdown after trip GOP chairman after Africa trip: US military drawdown would have 'real and lasting negative consequences' Trump pick for Fed seat takes bipartisan fire MORE (R-S.D.) 

“I don’t think the tariff strategy is the appropriate strategy,” said Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerGOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way The Hill's Campaign Report: What to watch for in Nevada 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.