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New Legislation Would Require Congressional Approval of Section 232 Tariffs

Friday, June 08, 2018
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

Legislation introduced June 6 by a bipartisan group of senators would require Congress to approve any import tariffs imposed on national security grounds under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The measure reflects growing opposition to President Trump’s decision to levy such tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from major allies such as the European Union, Canada, and Japan and his consideration of such duties on automobiles and auto parts.

Under the new bill (S. 3013), the president would have to submit to Congress any proposal to adjust imports under Section 232. For 60 days following such a submission, legislation to approve the proposal would qualify for expedited consideration, guaranteeing the opportunity for debate and a vote. This requirement would apply to all Section 232 actions in the future as well as those taken within the past two years.

According to a number of press sources, the introduction of the bill indicates that, as a Politico article put it, congressional Republicans “are finally reaching their breaking point with President Donald Trump on trade.” Corker said the proposed restriction is necessary because the Trump administration is “abusing” the Section 232 authority, which “not only harms the very people we all want to help and impairs relations with our allies but also could invite our competitors to retaliate.” Other senators, Republicans and Democrats alike, agreed and emphasized that this bill would respond by allowing Congress to reclaim its constitutional right to regulate foreign trade.

However, prospects for legislative approval of the measure are uncertain. Trump reportedly called Corker June 6 to oppose the bill and would almost certainly veto any measure to which it may be attached, such as the annual national defense authorization bill. It is unclear whether enough Republicans would then vote against the president ahead of important mid-term elections to override a veto. As a result, some lawmakers are instead trying to use what Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called “the powers of persuasion” to convince the president to ease the steel and aluminum tariffs.

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