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Trump’s Trade Policies Get a Senate Slapdown

Lawmakers support congressional authority over tariff decisions

President Donald Trump outlines his plan to lower the price of prescription drugs during a speech in the White House Rose Garden in May 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump outlines his plan to lower the price of prescription drugs during a speech in the White House Rose Garden in May 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senators delivered a bipartisan, if nonbinding, rebuke to President Donald Trump’s trade policies on the floor Wednesday, voting 88-11 to express support for congressional authority over presidential decisions to impose tariffs for national security reasons.

The motion, offered by GOP Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, would instruct conferees on an unrelated $147 billion spending bill covering the Departments of Energy, Veterans Affairs, Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies to “include language providing a role for Congress in making a determination” under a law enabling presidents to impose trade restrictions on security grounds.

Trump has used Sec. 232 authority under the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to impose tariffs on about $46 billion worth of steel and aluminum imports, including from allies like Canada, Mexico and the European Union. The moves have riled trading partners and raised prices for U.S. consumers and businesses reliant on lower-cost imports from abroad, leading to condemnation from Republican free-trade advocates on Capitol Hill.

Corker and Toomey have introduced a bill that would require the president to submit to Congress any proposed trade restrictions under Sec. 232 for approval within 60 days.

The next step after Wednesday’s “symbolic” vote should be legislation “to return the actual authority to Congress, once again, to impose or to manage tariffs and duties,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

“We have to rein in an abuse of presidential authority and to restore Congress’ Constitutional authority in this regard,” said Flake, a co-sponsor of the Corker-Toomey measure. Flake is retiring rather than stand for reelection in November. 

The chamber also voted, 95-4, to back a motion to instruct conferees offered by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., related to the National Flood Insurance Program, which is in a sinkhole of debt. Authorization for the flood insurance program expires July 31.

Debate on the motions came as the chamber also approved, by voice vote, a motion to go to conference on the $147 billion spending package, encompassing the fiscal 2019 Energy-Water, Legislative Branch and Military Construction-VA bills. If enacted, the three-bill package would provide approximately 12 percent of the $1.24 trillion in total discretionary spending available under the budget caps for defense and nondefense spending in fiscal 2019.

Conferees will include Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., and ranking member Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.; Energy-Water chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Military Construction-VA chairman John Boozman, R-Ark., and ranking member Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Legislative Branch chairman Steve Daines, R-Mont., and ranking member Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn.; and James Lankford, R-Okla.

“We will aim to return to the Senate floor, hopefully sooner rather than later, a conference report that reflects bipartisan agreement and merits the support of our colleagues,” Shelby said.

The Senate’s action comes after the House named negotiators for the three-bill spending measure on June 28. House and Senate negotiators are scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. Thursday to begin reconciling their differences on the spending package.

Watch: Corker Chastises Fellow Republicans for Blocking His Tariff Amendment

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