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American ShipperTrade and Compliance

Portman: White House gave input on trade security bill

The bill would realign Section 232 investigative authorities with the Defense Department and let Congress strike down any ordered duties through a resolution of disapproval.

   Factors boding well for enactment of Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s Trade Security Act include the Trump administration’s input in crafting the bill and the fact that the head of the Senate Finance Committee wants to advance the legislation, Portman told reporters Tuesday.
   Portman “spent a lot of time with the administration,” including with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Director Peter Navarro and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Portman said during a roundtable with reporters.
   The fact that the bill would require passage of a congressional resolution of disapproval to overturn Section 232 duties, as opposed to a congressional resolution of approval to authorize the duties, helps the bills chances of passage, Portman said.
   “The Trump administration … has not come out against our proposal,” he said. “Now, they might. And I’m not saying that they love it, but we do spend a lot of time working with them … getting their input, talking to them.”
   The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.
   Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Mark Warner, D-Va., alongside Reps. Mike Gallagher, D-Wis., and Ron Kind, D-Wis., recently introduced companion bills in the House and Senate that would give Congress 60 days to pass an approval resolution required for Section 232 tariffs to take effect.
   That legislation also would allow Congress to eliminate Section 232 duties in place at the time of the bill’s enactment, contrasting with the Portman legislation.
   Portman characterized his bill as a “middle ground” to advance Congress’ efforts to strengthen vetting for Section 232 actions, while ensuring that the existing statute continues to allow the executive branch to quickly act after determining that imports threaten national security.
   Portman made clear his preference for addressing Section 232 actions through a disapproval resolution rather than a more stringent approval resolution, adding that allowing Congress to retroactively overturn duties would draw a veto threat from President Donald Trump.
   But Portman added he would be open to reconciling other parts of his bill with Toomey’s legislation to broaden consensus about how Congress should address Section 232 actions.
   “Senator Toomey is willing to work with Senator Portman or any member of the Senate that hopes to make progress on this issue,” a Toomey spokesperson said in an email.
   Portman introduced legislation identical to the Trade Security Act last Congress.
   This Congress “the biggest difference, to be frank, is that you have the chair of the authorizing committee in the Senate, Chairman [Chuck] Grassley[, R-Iowa], who wants to move forward, and has made a commitment,” Portman said.
   Grassley told reporters last month that he hopes to use Portman’s legislation as a basis for committee consideration of ways to address executive Section 232 authorities.
   Companion legislation also has drawn interest in the House, Portman noted.
   The hopeful timeline for passage is the end of 2019, he said.
   “Some have suggested we should wait until the implementing legislation for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement” is submitted to Congress, Portman said. “I’m not sure when that is. I’m not sure what the process is going to be there with ratification.”
   Trump told White House reporters Tuesday that USMCA implementing legislation will be sent to Congress “very shortly,” according to a White House press pool report.
   Portman continued on his legislation, “We’re open to any and all avenues to try to get it done.”

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Brian Bradley

Based in Washington, D.C., Brian covers international trade policy for American Shipper and FreightWaves. In the past, he covered nuclear defense, environmental cleanup, crime, sports, and trade at various industry and local publications.
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