Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle are looking for a legal way out of President Donald Trump’s escalating tariff regime on Mexican exports scheduled to begin June 10.
President Trump is attempting to use his surprise tariffs announced on May 30 against the United States’ biggest trading partner – which start at 5 percent and increase 5 percent per month until hitting 25 percent on Oct. 1 – to force Mexico to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. They’ve proven unpopular in Congress, however, even among the President’s more reliable supporters.
During a floor speech in the Senate on June 3, John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that because of the strong economic relationship Texas has with Mexico along their 1,200 miles of shared border, “any decisions that would disrupt that relationship need to be closely examined and debated and be subject to a cost-benefit analysis.”
He noted that at Laredo, the busiest land gateway with Mexico at 14,000-16,000 truck crossings per day, “they understand the importance of that cross-border trade.”
Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who oversees trade policy as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said using tariffs to address illegal immigration is a mistake. “Trade policy and border security are separate issues,” Grassley said following Trump’s announcement.
“This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent. Following through on this threat would seriously jeopardize passage of USMCA [the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement], a central campaign pledge of President Trump’s and what could be a big victory for the country. President Trump should consider alternatives, such as imposing a fee on the billions of dollars of remittances that annually leave the United States to Mexico, which only encourage illegal immigration and don’t help the U.S. economy.”
Mexico’s foreign minister was scheduled to meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on June 5 to try to negotiate a way out of the tariffs and keep the USMCA on track.
Senate leaders, meanwhile, have argued that Trump needs to issue a new emergency declaration to impose the tariffs separate from a border-related declaration he issued in February, according to Nicole Bivens Collinson, an international trade expert with the law firm Sandler Travis & Rosenberg.
In a June 5 research note, Collinson said both chambers of Congress would then have to pass a resolution of disapproval to overturn such a declaration to halt the tariffs.
“However, with the Senate anticipating that a declaration will not be sent until late June 9, the initial 5 percent tariff is likely to take effect before the Senate can act,” Collinson said, adding that it’s also unclear whether there are enough votes in each chamber to override Trump’s likely veto of a disapproval resolution.
“If Congress fails to act quickly the tariffs could increase to 10 percent on July 1 and remain in effect for much of that month. If there is a further delay tariffs could go to 15 and then 20 percent because Congress is scheduled to be out of session August 3 through September 8. Even once Congress returns it will have to deal with debt limit and spending bills, which could result in the tariffs reaching 25 percent on October 1.”
Collinson pointed out that business groups are considering using the courts to block the tariffs.
“One of the arguments in a potential case could be that Trump has erroneously cited the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977, which has previously been utilized to implement economic sanctions and regulate exports, as the statutory authority for the tariffs,” Collinson said.