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Senate GOP Effort to Rebuke Trump on Trade Has Died a Quiet Death

Effort to assert tariff authority not included in FAA reauthorization bill

Sen. Bob Corker has little hope for his trade legislation. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Bob Corker has little hope for his trade legislation. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Bob Corker appears resigned to the fact that the Senate won’t be acting to rebut President Donald Trump on trade policy before voters go to the polls in November.

The Tennessee Republican had previously talked up the possibility of attaching legislation drafted with Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey to a must-pass reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The effort got a lot of attention when it was rolled out, but its apparent death might be much less noteworthy.

The bill would provide a process for reviewing tariff determinations under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, like those the Trump administration imposed on steel and aluminum. Specifically, it would require the president to submit to Congress any proposed trade restrictions under Sec. 232 for approval within 60 days.

The tariffs have generated controversy because while current law gives the White House and the Commerce Department wide latitude in the name of national security, the Trump administration has applied them to products produced by U.S. allies.

“It’s not moving very quickly,” Corker said Tuesday when asked about the legislation

With a bicameral agreement reached on the FAA reauthorization that’s become something of a kitchen sink, and the bill needing to move in both the House and the Senate ahead of Oct. 1, Corker’s coalition appears to have no shot of even getting a vote.

More than a dozen extra proposals made the cut, but not the tariff proposal.

“Things have moved along so long, we’re so close to the midterms that I realize that, you know, there’s not really much of a chance for it to become law,” Corker said.

The coalition of GOP critics of the president’s trade agenda, also including Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, won a rather symbolic victory in July. Back then, senators voted, 88-11, to express support for congressional authority over presidential decisions to impose tariffs for national security reasons.

But that vote came on a non-binding motion. The companion proposal that would carry the force of law has been looking ever since for a legislative vehicle that includes revenue language.

As for the broader question, the Foreign Relations chairman still does not think the Trump tariff policy is going well.

Corker said he had separate meetings Tuesday with representatives of a country and of a company, “with tremendous complications with the way these tariffs are being put in place.”

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