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Senators introduce bill requiring congressional approval on national security tariffs

Image: MGN

Senators from both sides of the aisle came together Tuesday and introduced a bill that would require Congress to sign off on national security-designated tariffs.

U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Mark Warner (D-Va.),Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) brought forward the bill.

The bill requires the president to submit to Congress any proposal to adjust imports in the interest of national security under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

For a 60-day period following submission, legislation to approve the proposal will qualify for expedited consideration, guaranteeing the opportunity for debate and a vote. The requirement would apply to all Section 232 actions moving forward, as well as those taken within the past two years.

“While we all agree on the need to ensure the international trade system is fair for American workers, companies and consumers, unfortunately, the administration is abusing the Section 232 authority delegated to the president by Congress,” said Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Making claims regarding national security to justify what is inherently an economic question not only harms the very people we all want to help and impairs relations with our allies but also could invite our competitors to retaliate."

"If the president truly believes invoking Section 232 is necessary to protect the United States from a genuine threat, he should make the case to Congress and to the American people and do the hard work necessary to secure congressional approval,” said Corker.

Related | Macron talks to Trump, says tariffs illegal and a mistake

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated he was not interested in spending too much time on the effort presented behind closed doors Tuesday by its chief proponent, Sen. Bob Corker, (R-Tenn.), saying he preferred to focus on "getting bills passed." And the second-ranking Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said he hoped Republicans concerned about the tariffs could prevail on the president to reverse course.

"Not everything we do has to be legislative. Part of this job is persuasion," said Cornyn. He said lawmakers would "continue to make the case" with the president and his staff, which he noted is divided.

Senator Alexander says that Tennessee stands to suffer from import tariffs on steel and aluminum.

“In general, these kinds of tariffs are a big mistake, and using national security as an excuse is a bigger mistake," said Alexander. "There is no state that is likely to be more damaged by tariffs on aluminum and steel than Tennessee, because in many ways we are the nation’s number one auto state. I have urged President Trump instead to focus on reciprocity—do for our country what our country does for you—instead of imposing tariffs, which are basically higher taxes on American consumers.”

Related | China warns US trade deals off if tariffs go ahead

Trump took office promising to rip up trade deals and crack down on unfair trading practices. But that campaign slogan is at odds with Republicans' longstanding preference for free markets and open trade. The standoff is raising an uncomfortable question: If Republicans can't confront Trump on trade, can they challenge him on anything?

"For Republicans, this is who we are," said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz). "If we believe our own rhetoric — on trade, tariffs and congressional prerogative — I hope it does come to a vote."

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