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American Shipper

Senate Republicans block tariff legislation

The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act would have required congressional approval of import tariffs levied on the basis of national security.

   Senate Republicans have blocked an up-or-down vote on a bill that would have required congressional approval prior to the imposition of import tariffs levied on the basis of national security.
   Introduced as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the legislation (S.3013) sought to amend Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 by eliminating language that authorizes the president to determine any trade actions regarding imports found to impact national security and replacing it with a provision requiring the White House to submit to Congress a proposal for any trade actions within 15 days of making such a determination.
   Those Section 232 remedy proposals would then be subject to a congressional review period of 60 days, at the conclusion of which both chambers of Congress would vote on whether to approve the proposed action.
   President Donald Trump in March announced the imposition of global tariffs of 25 percent on imports of steel to the United States and 10 percent on aluminum imports following two Section 232 investigations that deemed those imports to pose a threat to national security.
   The administration then doubled down by dropping temporary exemptions from the metals tariffs for the European Union, Canada and Mexico, leading all three to threaten retaliatory measures.
   That decision fueled further criticism of the Section 232 tariffs from U.S. labor groups and federal lawmakers, as well as the country’s close allies and trading partners. Earlier this week, 29 ambassadors of European Union countries to the United States penned an open letter on the subject of EU-U.S. trade relations in which they argued such tariffs threaten what has historically been a mutually beneficial, and highly lucrative, trade relationship.
   Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who co-sponsored the legislation along with lawmakers from both parties, was incensed by the move to block the NDAA amendment, accusing his GOP colleagues of kowtowing to the president.
   “I can’t believe it,” he said Tuesday in a speech on the Senate floor. “I would bet that 95 percent of the people on this side of the aisle support intellectually this amendment. … And a lot of them would vote for it if it came to a vote.
   “I haven’t heard a single senator on our side that hasn’t expressed concern to the president directly about what’s happening with tariffs,” he added. “And all my amendment would do is say, ‘Look, Mr. President, you go negotiate, but when you finish, come back, and as senators and as House members, let us vote up or down.’”
   Although the amendment was technically blocked on procedural grounds, Corker said Senate Republicans were acting out of fear of rebuke from Trump and the potential downstream effects on voting in the upcoming midterm elections.
   According to a statement from Corker’s office, bills related to revenue are required to originate in the House of Representatives, so Corker requested unanimous consent to place the current text of the NDAA on a House-passed revenue shell, a fairly commonplace practice in the grand legislative scheme of things, and asked that the Senate vote up or down on the merits of the amendment, but floor manager Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., objected.
   “But no, no, no. ‘Gosh, we might poke the bear,’ is the language I’ve been hearing in the hallways,” Corker said in his speech. “If people don’t like it, they can vote up or down. People can vote up or down. But no, the United States Senate right now, on June the 12th, is becoming a body where, ‘Well, we’ll do what we can do, but, my gosh, if the president gets upset with us then we might not be in the majority. And so let’s don’t do anything that might upset the president.’”
   According to a report from CNN Politics, Corker told reporters on Capitol Hill he would look for other avenues to check the president’s broad authority to impose import tariffs.
   “I’m not giving the fight up,” he said. “I think it’s ridiculous people can’t vote on amendments. Childish! Childish!”

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