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Grassley to Introduce Bill to Constrain Presidential Tariff Powers

Senator Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 2, 2018. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters )

Senator Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) said Tuesday that he will continue to advance legislation designed to reassert congressional authority over trade policy.

Without criticizing President Trump directly, Grassley suggested during a call with reporters that legislation is necessary to reverse a decades-long slide in which Congress has allowed the executive branch to coopt its constitutional power to impose tariffs.

“It adds up to something pretty simple: Congress has delegated too much authority to the president of the United States,” Grassley said during a call with reporters.

Grassley, whose largely agricultural constituency has been particularly harmed by Trump’s trade war with China, argued that the president’s unconstrained protectionist policies are the result of Congress’s failure to assert itself.

“There’s absolutely no constitutional crisis that this president or any other president has created,” he said. “The constitutional crisis comes from the elected representatives of the people over the last 80 years making a dictator out of the presidency . . . let’s say making a kingship out of the presidency of the United States.”

Grassley explained that the legislation he plans to introduce would limit presidential authority under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which Trump used to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

In addition to his ongoing trade war with China, Trump threatened to use emergency economic powers to impose a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports last week in an attempt to force concessions on immigration enforcement. Free-trade advocates in the Republican caucus, boasting a veto-proof majority, vowed to block the move but were spared from making a stand after Trump rescinded the threat in light of a public commitment from Mexico to do more to address illegal immigration.

Grassley said he soon expects to reach a compromise with Republican senators Pat Toomey and Rob Portman, who have introduced competing legislation to rein in presidential tariff authority and whose support he will require in order to advance the bill against likely opposition from the White House.

“You can imagine how the president feels about tariffs,” he said. “He may not look favorably on this, so I want a very strong vote in my committee and then, in turn, a very strong vote on the floor of the Senate.”

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