Top GOP senators are organising a plan to take control of Trump's tariffs, and it might actually work

  • A group of senators plan to offer an amendment to the annual defence bill that would require congressional approval of import adjustments proposed by the Trump administration.
  • That would include the recent tariffs on steel and aluminium.
  • Senate leaders have hinted at being open to the amendment, suggesting it could make it to President Donald Trump’s desk in the form of a must-pass piece of legislation.

WASHINGTON – A group of senators are crafting a plan that would claw back some of President Donald Trump’s authority to enact sweeping tariffs and other trade policies that many Republicans and other free-trade supporters believe would result in lasting damage to the US economy.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, alongside seven other senators, proposed the plan on Wednesday, which would require tariffs proposed as a national security imperative under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act to be subject to congressional approval.

The plan, if it becomes law, would also retroactively apply to import adjustments from the past two years, including Trump’s recent tariffs on steel and aluminium. Those tariffs last week expanded to include Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, which had previously been exempt from the measures and are now retaliating.

Corker, a vocal critic of Trump, told reporters that he expects the president’s reaction to the plan “might not be so positive,” but it is a necessary undertaking to reassert congressional authority.

“These are actually responsibilities of Congress that we gave away in 1962 and what this would do is redefine that and say that the president would go through the same steps that he goes through,” Corker said. “But at the end of the day if decides he wants to put tariffs in place, Congress has to approve this.”

Corker also expressed concern that because Trump is so heavily invested in the tariffs, rebuking him in such a way could be difficult for those in a political bind.

“On policy, there’s a lot of support,” he said. “Some people may have political concerns, but we’ll see where it goes.”

Joining Corker in introducing the plan was Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, whose significant number of agricultural constituents could bear the brunt of retaliatory policies from allies and trading partners unhappy with the new tariffs.

“The implications of these tariffs are significant – on our own producers and businesses because of retaliatory tariffs we’re now seeing and on our relationships with our allies who could use the same claims of national security to impose tariffs on us,” Heitkamp said. “Huge economic policy decisions like tariffs shouldn’t be taken lightly, and Congress should serve as a needed check to make sure we aren’t losing out in the end.”

Utilising must-pass legislation as a vehicle for the plan

The proposal will be offered as an amendment to the annual National Defence Authorization Act, which is must-pass legislation and makes the prospect of a presidential veto that much more difficult on the White House’s end.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday that he is “not going to call it up free-standing,” citing the plan’s “contentious” nature.

But McConnell said he would potentially allow the NDAA to be used to push it through.

“What I’m in favour of is getting bills passed that we have to do for the country,” McConnell said. “NDAA is certainly one of them but it is open to amendment and we’ll see what happens as it moves across the floor.”

For the plan to go ahead, it will rely heavily on support from Democratic lawmakers, which Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would be open to considering once he gets a look at the text of the plan.

And already, key free-trade and economic policy groups are boosting the plan in statements of support.

Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer of the US Chamber of Commerce, backed the proposal as “welcome and long overdue.”

“The US business and agriculture community is profoundly concerned about how newly imposed tariffs – and the inevitable foreign retaliation arriving in the next few weeks – will lead to lost American jobs,” Bradley said in a statement. “This emerging trade war endangers the remarkable economic progress we’ve seen in the past year. The constitutional authority of the Congress to ‘regulate foreign trade’ and its oversight of tariff policy is unambiguous.”

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