Legislation Would Stop President From Being Able To Say Every Tariff Is A Matter Of “National Security” And Thus Doesn’t Need Approval Of Congress. But Will It Pass?
It’s pretty straightforward: even if the President says a tariff is necessary for reasons of “national security”, Congress would now still have to approve it. In order to not detract from the effectiveness of a tariff (or threat of a tariff), Congress would promise to fast-track that process, with a vote coming within 60 days of the President proposing a tariff.
As we pointed out in our column last week entitled: “Why Does The President Have Such Free Rein On Trade?“, a law passed by Congress during the Cold War allows the President to implement tariffs on his own if they’re considered crucial to “national security.” And Trump’s been taking full advantage of that.
The legislation, led by Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, is co-sponsored by 7 Republicans and 4 Democrats. So it seems to have at least some momentum. It’s also at least slightly immediately embarrassing to Trump who reluctantly (according to the Washington Post) heads to a meeting of global economic powerhouses this weekend in Canada (ahead of his sit down with Kim Jong-un) and wants to walk in full of intensity and bravado.
The biggest obstacle, as always, with legislation like this, is even if the House and Senate passes it, the President still has to sign it into law. Could enough Democrats and Republicans get behind it to have a veto-proof majority? Perhaps not. But it also might not matter.
Because Senators might have another trick up their sleeves. Senate and House leadership has conspicuously kept its distance from Corker’s bill, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he won’t allow this legislation to come to the floor of the Senate as a stand-alone bill. But attach it to another bill? Maybe. And how about one Trump almost has to sign? For instance, the National Defense Authorization Act, which is coming up for a vote real soon. According to the Hill, the Senator in charge of that bill, Oklahoma’s James Inhofe, will not object to an attempt to add it as an amendment (although he says he’d vote against it). So if this does move forward, that’s mostly likely how.
Ultimately, to Trump, this will play out as a test of loyalty. Which is something he seems to relish. Corker says Trump’s already called him to get him to drop it. But he won’t. And one might think many Members of Congress might find this kind of action too risky, because if they fail in passing it, they’re sure to face repurcussions from the President. It’s no coincidence that the Senator leading the effort is a lame duck: Corker’s not running for reelection this year.
Except there’s something mitigating that risk of going up against the President this time around: the Koch brothers in the last day or two have thrown down the gauntlet, saying they’ll pour millions of dollars into efforts to stop tariffs and encourage free trade. That also sends a message to Congress: don’t worry about your donations drying up, or your political support waning. And that gives politicians some cover. Because while some say Trump’s envisioning himself as “King” lately, the Koch’s are real-deal “Kingmakers”.