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Senate Delivers Mild Rebuke to Trump on Trade

Sen. Corker secured the vote as a non-binding motion

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker appears to be among the keys to a tax overhaul deal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker appears to be among the keys to a tax overhaul deal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Bob Corker has finally got his colleagues on the record in support of Congress playing a role in national security-related trade decisions like those made recently under President Donald Trump.

The Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee secured the vote on a motion to instruct conferees on the pending package of three spending bills, which does not have a binding effect on the members of the Appropriations Committee who will be serving on the conference committee to resolve differences with the House.

The final tally was 88-11.

“This is something that anybody who supports the Senate playing its proper role should support,” Corker said on the Senate floor. “This is a baby step in a good direction for the United States Senate and for our country.”

Fellow Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania have been among those leading the effort with Corker. A wide range of Democrats have also supported the effort, led by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

The broader legislative effort would establish expedited congressional review for determinations under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The Trump administration has used that law to impose tariffs that are hitting some close allies of the United States, including Canada.

“This vote is a vote to move in the direction of restoring to Congress our constitutional authority, and ultimately if we do that right, to revisiting the misuse of the 232 provisions our trade law,” Toomey said.

Flake has also been holding up Judiciary Committee work on some judicial nominations over a disagreement that has included the fact the Senate had not voted on the Corker measure.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who has been among the leading critics of that broader effort as a supporter of the Trump trade agenda on steel and aluminium, supported the narrow motion while saying he would push against efforts to undermine the actions taken by the Commerce Department, especially with respect to China. 

“I will vote for the motion to instruct not because I think it makes sense to consider trade policy on an appropriations bill that has nothing to do with tariffs, but because of course Congress should have a role in 232 determinations. It should have a role in all trade policy,” Brown said. “I’ve been saying this for years.”

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