GOP senator demands details on 'damaging' tariffs

GOP senator demands details on 'damaging' tariffs
© Greg Nash

Sen. 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.) is pressing the Trump administration for details on the implementation of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter on Wednesday to Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossHouse panel, Commerce Department reach agreement on census documents China sanctions Wilbur Ross, others after US warns of doing business in Hong Kong DOJ won't prosecute Wilbur Ross after watchdog found he gave false testimony MORE asking for details on how the administration is deciding which countries will be exempted from the steep financial penalties, which he said were having "damaging" effects on U.S. businesses.

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Corker wrote that he also wants assurances that the department is making its decisions on tariff exemptions "free of political interference or persuasion."

"This exclusion process, while purporting to establish fair procedures, instead opens the door for the president, through his Commerce Secretary, to pick economic winners and losers," Corker wrote in his letter.

He added that the administration's use of the national security provisions of the trade law, known as Section 232, to implement tariffs is allowing it to "grant exclusions to favored companies or withhold benefits from political opponents."

Trump's decision to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico, among others, has rattled Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Corker added in his letter that the administration's actions are akin to "seizing unilateral power" to impose tariffs.

"The administration has upset the long-standing laws and traditions of our country and shifted the balance of power within our government," he said.

GOP lawmakers worry that the penalties against key trading partners will roil the economy months before the midterm election and overshadow gains they believe are created by the 2017 tax plan.

But there's been little sign GOP leadership is willing to use legislation to rein in Trump's tariff authority. Republicans blocked an amendment last week from Corker that would have required congressional approval if Trump wanted to implement national security tariffs.