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McConnell Casts Doubt on Legislation to Restrict Trump’s Trade Authority

Kentucky Republican talked taxes and trade Friday in Louisville

 Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was talking taxes and trade in his hometown on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
 Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was talking taxes and trade in his hometown on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stopped at a water tank manufacturing company Friday in Louisville, Kentucky, to tout the benefits of the Republican tax overhaul, but the conversation not surprisingly turned to trade.

The Kentucky Republican said it was unlikely Congress could enact restrictions on President Donald Trump’s trade authority, despite some GOP senators’ efforts to reign in the president’s actions.

“Even if Congress were to decide to legislate in this area, I think the president believes deeply that this is going to work out in the end and seems to acknowledge that there’s some short-term pain here,” McConnell said. “I think the honest answer is legislation probably would not be achievable even if it were desirable.”

Earlier in the summer, the Senate passed a bipartisan nonbinding resolution on an 88-11 vote, stating that congressional authority over presidential trade actions was necessary for national security reasons. GOP Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania have introduced a bill that would require the president to submit to Congress proposed trade restrictions under Sec. 232 for approval within 60 days.

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. (Turkey became the latest country to be hit with such tariffs Friday.) 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.

McConnell sounded bullish on the prospect of improving the U.S. trade position with China, but he thought improving the situation with Canada and Mexico was less likely. 

“I’m not as hopeful we can get a better deal with the North American Free Trade Agreement than we currently have,” the majority leader said. “But there’s no question that the Chinese situation is unsustainable, and I commend the president for taking them on, and hopefully we’ll have a good ending to the U.S.-China trade relationship.”

McConnell said that in conversations with Kentucky manufacturers, he was getting a “mixed picture” of the effects of the steel and aluminum tariffs. Friday’s hosts at Caldwell Tanks said they hadn’t seen much effect on the cost of products to customers.

The majority leader noted that a Kentucky aluminum plant thought it could benefit from the tariffs, but added, “then you have Toyota with a different view.”

The Japanese automaker assembled a number of popular cars in Georgetown, Kentucky, including the Toyota Camry and the Lexus ES350.

“I hope that the trade war is short,” McConnell said. “I think if it’s taken to its ultimate conclusion, it will not work out well for either side.”

Back to taxes?

McConnell, who visited the tank company primarily to discuss the benefits of GOP-passed tax cuts, made clear once again that he didn’t envision the Senate taking another look at the tax overhaul this year. House Republicans have been discussing a second round of tax reductions.

“With regard to this year, I think the current tax law will not be revisited in this Congress,” he said.

McConnell also said he thinks Republicans running for re-election should tout the tax overhaul, as well as the economy at large.

“The way for the tax cuts to be sustained is at the ballot box. Our Democratic friends have made it clear that if they gain control of the government, they’re going to raise everybody’s taxes,” McConnell said.

“The tax relief that we’re talking about could be rather short-term depending on what the American people decide to do in ’18 and ’20,” the majority leader said. “So the biggest threat to the tax relief, in my view, is the American people deciding they want to go hard-left again.”

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