Republicans Are Finally Ready to Limit Trump’s Power — but Only on Trade and Tariffs

Republicans in the Senate are finally taking a stand against President Donald Trump, introducing legislation to curtail his executive power.

The free trade champions in the Republican Party, upset by newly imposed tariffs on US allies, are leading one of the first serious drives to push back against a president who has used his authority to advance a protectionist agenda. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., revealed a bill on Wednesday that would require congressional approval for any tariffs that are levied in the name of national security, a direct reference to the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by Trump on Canada, the European Union and Mexico. Tariffs and revenues, Corker argues, are the responsibilities of the Congress and not the executive branch.

Co-sponsored by four other Senate Republicans, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, this united campaign against the president stands in stark opposition to Republicans’ responses to other controversial Trump administration policy, like immigrant children being forcibly separated from their parents.

Trump is reportedly unhappy with Corker’s move to restrict his powers and had a lengthy conversation with him on Wednesday in the hope of convincing him to drop the bill, according to CNN. Corker described the conversation as “heartfelt” but said that he stood his ground with the president.

“I am a United States senator, and I have responsibilities and I’m going to continue to carry them out,” Corker told reporters.

Corker also said that while many Republicans share his views on trade policy, they remain afraid of crossing the president.

“I understand there’s a fear — fearful of the president, let’s be honest. On policy grounds, they strongly support this. But there are concerns about countering the president by some … there’s no doubt fear out there,” Corker said, regarding the attitude of his fellow Senate Republicans.

Reaction from some members of the House Freedom Caucus has been less muted.

“I’m dumbfounded,” House Financial Services Committee chair Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, told Bloomberg. “I can’t be silent and complicit in this.”

Trump has long made trade one of his cornerstone issues, a topic he brought up as when he first publicly discussed running for president in 1988. It was a repeated rhetorical theme of his on the campaign trail, where he became the first presidential candidate from a major party to be an outspoken protectionist since Herbert Hoover in 1932.

Yet while Trump liked to talk tough on trade during the campaign, he has found it much more difficult to succeed in pushing for various trade policies as president. On Tuesday Mexico retaliated against Trump’s tariffs by implementing roughly $3 billion of its own tariffs on American imports, including cheese, pork, steel and other goods, according to the New York Times. The new tariffs had been announced last week but came into effect as the Trump administration decided that it would negotiate new trade deals with Canada and Mexico separately rather than continuing the trilateral precedent established by NAFTA.

“These tariffs will exact immediate and painful consequences on many American farmers. Hog, apple, potato and dairy farmers are among those suddenly facing a 10 or 20 percent tax hike on the exports they depend on for their livelihoods. Farmers need certainty and open markets to make ends meet. Right now they are getting chaos and protectionism,” Angela Hofmann, deputy director of Farmers for Free Trade, said in a statement.

The impact of Trump’s trade policies spans beyond Mexico, however. According to a report by Bloomberg:

A roundup of recent developments from the front lines of the Great Trade War doesn’t look good. President Donald Trump has publicly waffled on his plans for major tariffs on Chinese imports, seeming to reverse his position several times and provoking immediate threats of retaliation. After seeming to  back off in the face of determined Chinese opposition, Trump then turned his fire on softer targets — U.S. allies. First announcing his intent to tax imported autos, then revoking promises to exempt allies from tariffs on steel and aluminum, Trump may have underestimated the world’s democracies — the European Union, Canada and Mexico swiftly made their own counterthreats.

By contrast, Peter Navarro, the director of the White House National Trade Council, took to USA Today last month to pen an editorial defending Trump’s trade policies.

No president has done more to defend the American manufacturing base from unfair trade practices than Donald J. Trump. What may surprise even his critics is that no president — since Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty” — has done more to lift the prospects of low- and moderate-income families than President Trump.

After describing a new aluminum mill that will be constructed in Ashland, Kentucky — and arguing that Trump’s tax reform bill played also played a large in making that plant’s construction possible — Navarro concluded by framing Trump’s trade policies as part of his larger “Make America Great Again” platform.

There can be no better way to make America — and American manufacturing — great again than to start to rebuild those communities of America most harmed by the forces of globalization. These new facilities will stand as shining testimony to the success of tough trade actions, smart tax policies and targeted worker-training programs.