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Corker Unveils Plan to Give Congress Power to Stop Trump Trade Actions

Bipartisan bill was filed despite opposition from the White House

Sens. Bob Corker and Heidi Heitkamp are among the leaders of an effort to put new constraints on the imposition of tariffs for national security purposes.. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sens. Bob Corker and Heidi Heitkamp are among the leaders of an effort to put new constraints on the imposition of tariffs for national security purposes.. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Bob Corker followed through Wednesday on unveiling legislation to increase congressional oversight of tariffs applied in the context of national security.

Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 grants the executive branch authority to impose tariffs to protect vital interests, but Corker and others argue that President Donald Trump is misapplying the law — using it against allies instead of adversaries.

“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,” the Tennessee Republican said in a statement. “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.”

As expected, the bill would require a 60-day window for expedited congressional review of 232 actions. The Trump administration announced last month an investigation that would include imported automobiles.

It should be no surprise that Corker, who was among the officials who worked to lure German auto giant Volkswagen to his home town of Chattanooga, that he would part company with Trump on the issue.

The nine senators joining Corker in the legislation include a mix of Republicans and Democrats, including fellow Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander and North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

“Our bipartisan bill would make sure Congress has a key oversight role if a president imposes tariffs under the claim of national security reasons. Right now, the president is implementing tariffs on our allies, like Canada, Mexico, and the EU — countries that don’t pose national security threats but which are critical trading partners for North Dakota,” Heitkamp said in statement.

Several news outlets, including CNN, reported earlier Wednesday that Trump had called Corker and the two men had a long discussion about the possibility Corker would move ahead with legislation despite the president’s opposition.

“I am a United States senator, and I have responsibilities and I’m going to continue to carry them out,” Corker said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters Tuesday that he did not anticipate bringing up legislation like Corker’s as a standalone measure, but that it was certainly possible someone might try to attach it to a moving legislative vehicle like the fiscal 2019 defense authorization.

That was before McConnell faced objection from within his own conference to the motion to proceed to the defense programs bill over senators seeking assurances about getting amendment votes.

Across the Capitol, Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin indicated Wednesday that trade legislation will not be on the House’s to-do list without presidential endorsement, something the Corker plan is sure not to have.

“You’d have to pass a [bill] that he would want to sign into law and that would be what it would take,” the Wisconsin Republican told reporters. “And you can do the math on that.”

If Congress were to pass legislation that Trump decided to veto, lawmakers still have the power to override the president with a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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