The Constitution explicitly grants Congress the power to impose tariffs. Over time, Congress has delegated much of that power to the president. Legally, they’re within their rights to take that power back.
In light of Trump’s recently-announced tariffs on steel and aluminum — which even apply to political and economic allies — is now the time for Congress to take back some of that power?
In March, President Trump announced tariffs of 25 percent on foreign steel and 10 percent on foreign aluminum imported into the United States. Trump’s stated reason had been “national security.”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross indicated for months that he would try to exempt U.S. allies like Canada and the European Union, which are not national security threats. However, he finally announced in early June that they would be subject to the tariffs after all, saying the U.S. had been “unable to reach satisfactory arrangements” with those nations.
This is unprecedented in modern times, since tariffs or retaliatory economic actions are basically exclusively used against adversarial nations, not friendly ones. And those nations are fighting back: Canada retaliated with $12.8 billion in tariffs on American goods, while the European Union did the same for $3.3 billion of American products.
What the bill does
S. 3013 would require congressional approval before a president can go through with an import adjustment in the name of national security.
Congress would have 60 days after such a presidential proposal to accept or reject it. This would not just apply moving forward, but also be retroactive for the past two years — covering the entirety of the Trump presidency.
The bill was introduced on June 6 by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). (The bill is numbered and doesn’t have an exact title.)
What supporters say
Supporters argue the national security threat invoked by Trump was just a facade. (Canada is hardly a national security threat to the U.S.) They also say the legislative branch elected by the American people needs more of a say in these matters and shouldn’t cede all authority to the executive branch, carte blanche.
“While we all agree on the need to ensure the international trade system is fair for American workers, companies and consumers, unfortunately, the administration is abusing the Section 232 authority delegated to the president by Congress,” Sen. Corker said in a press release.
“Making claims regarding national security to justify what is inherently an economic question 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,” Corker continued.
“If the president truly believes invoking Section 232 is necessary to protect the United States from a genuine threat, he should make the case to Congress and to the American people and do the hard work necessary to secure congressional approval.”
What opponents say
One person who opposes this bill to reverse the Trump tariffs is Trump.
“A strong steel and aluminum industry are vital to our national security. Absolutely vital. Steel is steel. You don’t have steel. You don’t have a country,” Trump said in a speech when originally announcing the tariffs.
“Our industries have been targeted for years and years. Decades, in fact, by unfair foreign trade practices, leading to the shuttered plants and mills, the laying-off of millions of workers, and the decimation of entire communities,” Trump continued. “And that’s going to stop, right? That’s going to stop.”
“This is not merely an economic disaster, but it’s a security disaster. We want to build our ships, we want to build our planes, we want to build our military equipment with steel, with aluminum from our country. And now we’re finally taking action to correct this long- overdue problem.”
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted 13 bipartisan Senate cosponsors: eight Republicans and five Democrats. It awaits a possible vote in the Senate Finance Committee.
However, senior Senate Republicans including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are attempting to prevent the legislation from ever coming up for a vote, seeking to avoid an internecine fight within the GOP. They also argue the bill would be vetoed by the president even if passed Congress.