Yesterday, The Hill reported that Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) was reviving his tariff bill and seeking to attach it to the FAA reauthorization that must be passed by September 30. Sen. Corker’s bill would require that any tariffs imposed by the White House for national security purposes under Section 232—like those levied against Canada, Mexico, and the European Union’s steel and aluminum—be subject to congressional approval. This morning, Sen. Corker spoke to FreightWaves by phone about the uncertainty created by the White House’s improvisational approach to trade policy and delivered a warning to the Trump administration.
“I’m certain that currently [the Trump administration] doesn’t know itself what its end game is,” said Corker. “There are a lot of Republicans who want to see free trade take place. Obviously we want trade to be fair, and yes, there are some anomalies with China that need to be resolved. But [the Trump administration] really has gone about this in a ready-fire-aim kind of approach; they’re getting themselves deeper and deeper and deeper into it and these countries are understandably retaliating against what they’re doing,” Corker said.
“I’d say if you had a vote and people voted today, I’d guess there’d be 70 votes for our amendment or our bill depending on how we put it in,” Corker said. “The flip side of that,” he continued, “is that as the tariffs have been put in place, it’s more and more difficult and it creates a little more of a headwind on our bill because now we’re midstream. We haven’t prevented something and more and more things have been put in place since the amendment or the bill was offered.”
“Our hope is that the President will move away from what he’s doing,” said Corker. “Our bill has already had an effect on the administration—we had a procedural vote that we overwhelmingly passed and that was a wake up call to the administration. We’ve had a large number of senators tell the administration that if they continue to be unable to articulate where they’re going, ultimately the Corker amendment will pass.”
Corker also lamented the fall-out from the retaliatory tariffs that China levied against American agricultural products, including soybeans.
“We basically put in place a policy that sends farmers to the poorhouse, and then we create a bailout package to put them on welfare, and of course we borrow a good deal of that money from other countries. It’s really a perverse policy that’s been put in place, and the farmers in our country acknowledge it. They don’t like where they are,” said Corker.
Ultimately, Corker said, revenues and tariffs are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress, which now needs to push back against a President who is trying to stretch the bounds of his authority.
“In order to allow the expeditious dealing of trade issues, there were a couple of trade acts passed: one in the 60s and one in 1974. Congress gave to the President some authority for them to be dealt with in a more efficient manner and under Section 232, they gave the President complete authority if it involves national security issues,” Corker explained. “When those were drafted, no one ever intended for it to be used in cases like this. I don’t think there’s anybody that would agree that the tariffs we’re putting on Europe, or Canada, or Mexico are because of national security reasons. It’s an abuse of authority, and I actually haven’t heard anyone disagree,” said Corker.
Abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a “strategic blunder” according to Corker, because “that was a way for us to help put additional pressure on China. We had a whole trading bloc of people who were with us on TPP.”
Corker commented briefly on the trade war’s implications for transportation and logistics. “Generally speaking, once you disrupt supply chains and long term relationships as they relate to goods and supplies, people start looking elsewhere for those same materials. You look at soybeans right now—American agriculture is flying to other parts of the world, and once [China] goes to Brazil and other markets, it’s very unlikely that those markets are going to come back. I’d guess that the same thing is going to happen for many other goods.”