Senate Sends Trump Message to Slow Down on Tariff Escalation

July 11, 2018 12:46 PM
The U.S. Senate took President Donald Trump to task on trade but fell short of curtailing his power to impose tariffs.

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Senate took President Donald Trump to task on trade but fell short of curtailing his power to impose tariffs.

In an 88-11 vote on Wednesday, the Senate approved a symbolic motion backing a role for Congress in imposing tariffs based on national security, such as those Trump imposed on steel and aluminum imports and is contemplating on autos. The vote came a day after the administration said it would impose a new round of 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods as part of a dispute over alleged Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property.

The non-binding effort was sponsored by retiring Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who has been a critic of Trump’s trade agenda and is especially concerned about damage to his home state from a tariff on auto imports.

“This is not being imposed for national security reasons,” Corker said on the Senate floor. “This is an abuse of presidential authority.”

For Republicans wary of taking on a president popular with GOP voters, the vote was a display of frustration over Trump’s tariffs. Yet it also shows their reticence to open themselves to criticism from the president before November’s congressional elections that will determine whether the GOP maintains control of the House and Senate.

The Senate often takes such test votes as a way to build momentum for eventual binding legislation. Corker said the vote suggests “strong support” for giving Congress a bigger role on tariffs and that he will seek a binding vote.

Stock Slide

Trump’s latest move to ratchet up tariffs on Chinese goods raises the prospect that China could strike back by tripping up U.S. companies doing business in the Asian nation -- and tech is especially vulnerable.

The escalating trade war with China caused stocks and commodities to slide in markets worldwide. In the U.S., trade-sensitive shares led the decline, with Caterpillar Inc. and Boeing Co. slumping. The benchmark S&P 500 Index sank 0.6 percent as of 1 p.m. New York time, its biggest drop in two weeks.

Senator David Perdue, a Georgia Republican who is one of Trump’s top allies, said on the Senate floor that the motion would undermine Trump during future trade talks.

“I don’t understand while this body tries time and again to tie the hands of this president,” Perdue said. “Credibility in negotiating trade terms is absolutely critical.”

The Senate motion advises negotiators on an unrelated energy and water appropriations bill to include language giving Congress a role on the national-security tariffs. The bill is unlikely to actually include such language.

Not ‘Targeted Approach’

Instead, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, has said he’ll begin what could be a months-long process to examine whether Congress should take back some of the power to impose tariffs it has delegated to the executive branch. He said in a statement that Trump’s latest move on China appears “reckless and is not a targeted approach.”

Corker and Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, earlier failed to add to farm legislation a binding provision forcing presidents to get congressional approval for tariffs based on national security. That attempt was blocked by Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, who supports Trump’s steel tariffs.

Toomey said in an interview that it’s unclear when the finance panel will hold hearings or a vote on a bill that would limit Trump’s tariff powers.

Legislation limiting Trump’s power would face dim prospects in the House. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, said in an interview that in the "long term" he wants to examine national-security tariff powers, but for now he is working to ease the ability to seek exclusions from tariffs.

"Right now the focus is on how we buy time for president’s strategy to work against China and critical to that is really lifting the pain off of our local farmers and manufacturers," Brady said.

‘Hamstring’ the President

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters he wants to give Trump time to work out a deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping before acting on trade. "I don’t want to hamstring the president’s negotiating power,” he said.

Some House Republicans are urging action.

"We never should have delegated that authority to the president in the first place," said Texas Republican Bill Flores. "We need to start taking it back. I hope Congress will act. Whether it will or not I don’t know."

The push to rein in Trump is being propelled by business lobbyists. The Club for Growth and Heritage Action said Wednesday they would count the vote on the Corker motion in their scorecards that lawmakers use to tout their conservative credentials.

"As the trade war with China and other countries heats up, it’s imperative that Congress reclaim its authority by supporting this motion," the Club for Growth said in a statement.


©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

Back to news


Spell Check

Jonesboro, AR
7/12/2018 07:07 AM

  By the way, the Chinese communists own 1.18 trillion dollars of the 21.3 trillion national debt. I wouldn't call that a big part. It's a common misconception that the commies own most of our debt. They own 5.5% which is still way too much.

Menlo Park, CA
7/11/2018 01:29 PM

  I believe it is too late as the damage has been done. China will never trust the US again (just like Russia with the Russian Embargo) not to use food as leverage with them. think about it, what would the US do if the roles were reversed. We would say heck with you and go find a trustworthy supplier.

7/11/2018 04:34 PM

  China trust us?!?!?!?! Who are the fools that trusted China to begin with. Give all our manufacturing base to a thieving communist nation and let them write their own rules. Ross Perot had it right 25 years ago about that giant sucking sound, and we've been paying the piper ever since. Thank you Donald Trump, you are not the fool, go get'em


Corn College TV Education Series


Get nearly 8 hours of educational video with Farm Journal's top agronomists. Produced in the field and neatly organized by topic, from spring prep to post-harvest. Order now!


Market Data provided by
Brought to you by Beyer