WASHINGTON -- Bipartisan legislation aimed at rolling back presidential authority to impose tariffs for national security reasons was filed in both chambers of Congress on Wednesday -- marking one of the most open Republican challenges of the White House since President Donald Trump took office.
If implemented, Congress would be able to stymie high tariffs on autos and auto parts being considered by the Trump administration and even cancel the 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum that Trump imposed last year, which have harmed automakers and suppliers.
The Association of Global Automakers, the American International Automobile Dealers Association and the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association are among 51 trade associations that support the bill.
The Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act, introduced by Sens. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and Ron Kind, D-Wis., requires the president to get approval from Congress before taking trade actions based on national security threats. Congress would have 60 days to review the president's proposal and deliver an up-or-down vote.
The bill also requires Congress to approve any national security tariffs imposed within the last four years, more clearly defines how national security can be interpreted and requires the Defense Department — instead of the Commerce Department — to conduct future investigations under the 232 section of a 1962 trade that allows trade actions based on national security reasons. Also, the International Trade Commission would report to Congress on the downstream impact of recent and future national security trade moves.
There was no immediate comment from the White House or Commerce Department.
"Tariffs are tax increases on American workers and families," co-sponsor Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in a statement. "Yes, we have to get tough on China and others, but protectionism is weak -- not strong. The false pretense of 'national security' shouldn't drive a unilateral trade agenda.
"The Constitution puts trade and tariff policy in Congress' hands. These tariffs are a real gut-punch to family budgets so it makes sense that Congress -- the lawmakers who can be easily hired and fired by the American people -- should debate them."
Last spring, Trump justified the metals tariffs on national security grounds, saying cheap imports threatened domestic steel producers. Imports from all steel- and aluminum-producing countries, including allies such as Mexico and Canada, are now subject to the tariffs even though global overcapacity is primarily attributed to Chinese subsidies. Korea, Brazil and Argentina agreed to quotas.
The tariffs have raised costs for auto companies and suppliers regardless of whether they import because domestic producers have raised prices for their products 25 percent or more. Ford Motor Co. and General Motors each have said the levies have canceled out $1 billion in profit already.
Meanwhile, companies in many sectors are losing business because of retaliation by other nations on U.S. products.
While steelmakers report booming profits, companies in many sectors are losing business because of retaliation by other nations on U.S. products.
The Commerce Department in May launched an investigation into the national security impact of auto imports and has until Feb. 17 to present its findings to the president, although it's unclear whether the recent government shutdown will change the timeline.
Other Senate co-sponsors of the bicameral legislation are Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Angus King, I-Maine, James Lankford, R-Okla., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. Backers in the House are Darin LaHood, R-Ill., and Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif.
"When it comes to trade, Congress has consistently surrendered its Constitutional authorities to the executive branch," Gallagher said in a statement. "This bill reverses that trend, allowing for trade interventions when our national security is at stake and giving the Defense Department a greater role in that process. Our bill also safeguards the public from executive overreach and from protectionist policies that hurt Wisconsin families, manufacturers and farmers."
Trump likely would veto any such legislation that passed Congress, so it would need two-thirds majorities in each chamber to override him.
The provision for retroactive action "is significant because that tells you they're serious about moving this to the end and they have some semblance of an idea of getting to a margin that could overturn a veto," said Welles Orr, a senior international trade adviser at Miller & Chevalier.