WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers are expected to offer legislation soon that would force President Donald Trump to seek Congress’ approval for his recent steel and aluminum tariffs.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would offer a bill as soon as Tuesday that would roll back the president’s authority under the 1962 Trade Expansion Act’s national security provision, Section 232.
Trump announced last week that he will impose a 25 percent surcharge on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum from Europe, Mexico and Canada, sparking blowback from allies and free-trade Republicans.
America’s defense industry, which relies on overseas business, is bracing for a diminished appetite for its goods. Some lawmakers, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., argue the tariffs risk national security.
The president said the tariffs are needed to reinforce lagging American steel and aluminum industries and protect national security.
“All of these things he’s discussing, only under Section 232 ‘national security’ piece, he would have to bring to Congress to approve,” Corker, of Tennessee, told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday.
Corker said the legislation would be retroactive for two years and provide an expedited process or vote.
He and other supporters hope to attach the legislation to the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass bill due for floor consideration in the coming days.
Corker pitched the bill at the Senate Republicans’ caucus lunch on Tuesday and said he has plans to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to discuss the matter.
McConnell, at his weekly news conference, said he would not bring the bill to the floor on its own but favored its inclusion in the NDAA.
Speaking with reporters, Corker railed against the administration’s invocation of national security to justify the tariffs.
“When you start doing that, you negate realistic trade agreements,” Corker said. “When you can name anything as a national security issue, you undermine the whole trade agreement process. I think that has been greatly abused, and that is why I’m offering this legislation.”
He said afterward the bill will have Republican and Democratic support. Corker will need Democrats to offset the loss of Republicans like Sen. Chuck Grassley, senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, who is opposed.
“If you’re going to do anything, you’ve got to change the law and curb the president’s power,” said Grassley, of Iowa. “I would be reluctant to change his power on national security because national security [is] the No. 1 responsibility of government, and the president is commander in chief.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has called the tariffs a “tax hike on Americans” and said he would urge the administration to reverse course. On Tuesday, he said he was “certainly open” to legislation to curb them, without specifically commenting on Corker’s bill.
“We’ll have to see,” Hatch told Defense News. “Generally I want to support the president. It’s a tough job, but I’m not excited about tariffs at this particular time. I think it’s the wrong thing to do.”
Other Republican lawmakers may shun a bill Trump that might just veto, but Corker brushed those concerns aside.
“We’re a separate but equal branch. I hope that people who think this is good policy would support it. That’s what we’re hired to do,” Corker said.
Corker said he expects White House opposition.
“I’m sure we’ll get pushback,” he said.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.