Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday he will not bring up legislation challenging President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico.
But he suggested that the bill’s authors could try to attach the measure as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual defense policy bill expected on the Senate floor this month. Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who are drafting the legislation, have suggested they might attempt that approach.
“Items as contentious as that’s likely to be, we’ll see, but I’m not going to call it up free-standing,” McConnell told reporters at his weekly press conference. “You’re suggesting it might be offered as an amendment. NDAA is going to be open, we’ll see what amendments are offered.”
The legislation Corker and Toomey are drafting would give Congress authority to approve certain tariffs before they can take effect. It would apply to tariffs levied under a process that invokes national security, as was the case with last week’s tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum.
Aimed at some of the nation’s top allies and biggest trading partners, the tariffs infuriated the targeted countries, which have responded with reciprocal tariffs and threats of retaliation. Trump’s decision also frustrated GOP lawmakers who have pleaded with the president to curb his protectionist impulses, with limited impact.
GOP leaders have said they do not want to bring up a bill that Trump would be certain to veto. Coming ahead of November’s midterm elections, it might be a tough vote for some Republicans to cross their president. Collecting the 60 votes necessary to pass the legislation in the Senate would be difficult, and 67 votes would be required to overturn a presidential veto.
Still, trade is the area where Trump has departed most from his party’s orthodoxy of longstanding support for free trade. Corker, who is retiring at the end of the year, and Toomey, who was just re-elected, say they are working to gather allies to sign onto their bill. They defended their efforts as an appropriate attempt to take back some of the constitutional authority over trade that Congress has ceded to the executive branch over the years.
“The Constitution gives it to the Congress. So what should be controversial about Congress exercising its constitutional authority?” Toomey said Tuesday.
The legislation would require the president to submit to Congress any proposal to adjust imports in the interest of national security under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. For a 60-day period following submission, legislation to approve the proposal will qualify for expedited consideration, guaranteeing the opportunity for both debate and a vote. The requirement would apply to all Section 232 actions moving forward, as well as those taken within the past two years.
“I would hope that we’d be able to add it to NDAA since it’s a national security bill,” Corker said Tuesday. “But you know doing anything around here is like pushing a major boulder uphill, so we’ll see.”