House Republicans Try to End Trump’s Trade War:’The Constitution is pretty clear. That’s our power.’


A number of rank-and-file House Republicans on Wednesday night expressed support for a bill that would limit the president’s ability to impose far-reaching tariffs on national security grounds without congressional approval, despite President Donald Trump’s ongoing efforts alongside Republican leaders to halt the measure in its tracks.

The bill, introduced by Tennessee Republican Bob Corker alongside a bipartisan group of seven Republicans and four Democrats on Wednesday afternoon, would give Congress the ability to prevent tariffs pursued by the president under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act. The bill would be retroactive for two years, meaning tariffs that have already been employed would be subject to congressional approval.

“I think the more that we exercise our article one powers, the better,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker told THE WEEKLY STANDARD when asked about Corker’s bill. And Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole, a member of the GOP whip team, said he would support the idea.

“The Constitution is pretty clear. That’s our power,” said Cole.

Trump used Section 232 in March to implement tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent on steel and aluminum imports, and he expanded those tariffs (much to the chagrin of congressional Republicans) on May 31 to include close U.S. allies and trading partners such as Canada, Mexico, and the European Union.

The president wants to use the same process to impose tariffs of 25 percent on automobile imports as well. Corker argues that Trump is abusing the Section 232 authority in order to advance his protectionist trade agenda and is urging his Republican colleagues—most of whom condemned Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs—to join him in attempting to claw back trade authority that was initially given to Congress. Republican cosponsors of the bill include senators Ron Johnson, Pat Toomey, Ben Sasse, Mike Lee, Lamar Alexander, Johnny Isakson, and Jeff Flake. Democrats include Heidi Heitkamp, Brian Schatz, Mark Warner, and Chris Van Hollen.

Before the bill was released, Corker told reporters that Trump gave him an (evidently unheeded) phone call to ask him not to proceed with the legislation. And Republican leaders pushed back on the idea of reining in Trump’s trade authorities legislatively, with Senate leaders expressing misgivings with the proposal at the beginning of the week, and House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissing Corker’s bill during a press conference Wednesday morning because it would not be able earn the support of the president in order to become law (absent a veto-proof majority). “You can do the math on that,” said Ryan.

Still, with influential outside groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Koch network coming out in favor of the bill, the president is urging opposition from Hill Republicans. And that’s what he appears to be getting from some, such as staunch Trump supporter Chris Collins. “That’s the administrative function of the Department of Commerce coupled with input from the Treasury and the president.” Collins said of the Section 232 authority. “I do not think it’s Congress’s role.”

Others downplayed the potential for the administration to spark a harmful trade war, which could already be in its early stages. West Virginia Republican Evan Jenkins argued that Trump is a negotiator, adding that too much focus is placed on his initial positions, rather than his desired outcome. “We know at the end of the day the president will put America first,” Jenkins said.

Yet Corker also has allies in the House. His bill enjoys support among free-traders, conservatives, and members who are critical of Trump. Asked about Corker’s bill on Wednesday night, House Freedom Caucus member Mark Sanford urged caution from the administration and called for Section 232 to be used in the way that Congress intended—to address genuine national security threats. And Kentucky libertarian Thomas Massie said he would vote in favor of the bill, no matter who occupied the White House.

“I’m always for bringing some more of that power back to the congressional legislative branch,” Massie told TWS. “I would say that regardless of who’s president.” On the other hand, for retiring South Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the fact that Trump is in the White House makes her even more likely to support the bill. “I’m for anything that keeps Trump in check,” she said on her way to vote late Wednesday night.

Opponents of Corker’s bill, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, argue that curbing Trump’s trade powers would weaken his negotiating hand amid ongoing trade conversations. “Now is not the time to undercut President Trump’s ability to negotiate better trade deals,” Graham said in a statement after meeting with Trump at the White House to discuss trade and Corker’s effort on Wednesday afternoon.

Ros-Lehtinen disagreed with Graham’s premise.

“We’re weakening congressional hand all the time by ceding any kind of legislative authority to the president. We do it all the time, and we’re doing it too much,” she said. “We’re a coequal branch of government, and once in a while we should assert that authority.”





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