The Corner

Politics & Policy

Republicans are Fed Up with the Trump Administration’s Tariff Fixation

Sen. Bob Corker speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill, September 26, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

After sustained institutional resistance from the party, primarily to keep the White House happy, congressional Republicans have had enough of Trump’s recurring tariffs, per a report in Politico. That means that a vote on the Corker-Toomey proposal to restore limited congressional oversight over tariffs might be coming after all. If passed, the measure would allow Congress to vote “yes” or “no” on any executive tariff justified on national-security grounds (the method used to impose unilateral tariffs, with no oversight).

Republican leadership had resisted the measure, at first, to ensure smooth passage of the Farm bill, but eventually allowed the amendment to have a roll-call vote. Once it did, it found itself blocked by Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), who, as a left-wing Democrat, naturally takes an anti-trade stance. While the amendment failed this time, despite its broad and bipartisan support, Senator Corker remains adamant that he will continue to pursue the tariff reforms in future legislation. He emphasizes the fact that the Section 232 tariffs are a tax on the American people and an offense against America’s allies, a message that seems to be resonating in the party.

Pressures have been mounting within the parliamentary party to do something about Trump’s tariffs, which have both signaled a departure from the party’s stated governing philosophy of deference to free markets and caused economic harm across the country — not only to the big companies that have been vocal in their opposition (such as Harley-Davidson) but in agriculture and other fields. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) has gone so far as to halt the judicial confirmation process in order to force a vote on Corker-Toomey. Iowa’s Joni Erst, who has mostly chosen to politely and privately urge the president to alter his stance, says that her constituents cannot hold out much longer. The policy of the president they support is taking a toll on their livelihoods, she argues, and they will demand action.

Not everyone is on board. David Perdue (R., Ga.), for instance, opposes tariffs yet proclaims, “For me as a legislator here in the Senate to second guess [the White House]? I am kind of reluctant to do that.” He makes Congress’s abdication of authority into a virtue. Even so, it is heartening that there has been a broader shift in the party towards taking action against this willful economic illiteracy. It should have happened long ago, but as tariffs and retaliation mount, it is still not too late.

Jibran Khan — Jibran Khan is the Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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