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 TrumpFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right 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 CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Tenn.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote 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 McConnellCEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' Capito grills EPA nominee on '#ResistCapitalism' tweet Hassan launches first ad of reelection bid focusing on veterans' issues 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 ThuneManchin-McConnell meet amid new voting rights push Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate 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 HatchCongress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30 MORE (R-Utah), who has primary jurisdiction over trade issues, said he “certainly would consider supporting it.”

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots 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) TesterDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Senate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Polls open in California as Newsom fights for job MORE (D-Mont.), who is up for reelection in a state that Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails 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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyWoman allegedly abused by Nassar after he was reported to FBI: 'I should not be here' Democrat rips Justice for not appearing at US gymnastics hearing Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh 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 RoundsMike RoundsThe 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill Senate passes T bipartisan infrastructure bill in major victory for Biden Senate votes to end debate on T infrastructure bill MORE (R-S.D.) 

“I don’t think the tariff strategy is the appropriate strategy,” said Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerProtecting the outdoors: Three cheers for America's best idea Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program 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.