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Democrats, Republicans launch attempts to rein in Trump tariff power

A pair of Democratic senators on March 27 introduced legislation that would require greater congressional oversight of the president's ability to impose tariffs on global imports a day after a Senate committee chairman said he would pursue similar legislative efforts to rein in President Donald Trump's unilateral tariff power.

Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va. and Tom Carper, D-Del. introduced a bill that would still allow the president to initiate a trade action, including tariffs, under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 — the tool for Trump's controversial metals tariffs and potentially looming auto tariffs — on the grounds of national security, but would require Congress to vote to continue the imposition within 120 days.

Congress currently cannot extend or curtail tariffs imposed by the president under a Section 232 action.

Kaine and Carper's bill, the Reclaiming Congressional Trade Authorities Act of 2019, would also subject tariffs enacted under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, a non-national security justification, to further scrutiny by requiring the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to work with Congress.

The Section 301 investigation has been the primary tool that the Trump administration has used for tariffs it has imposed on $250 billion of Chinese goods, which has led to an ongoing trade war.

Kaine said various tariffs President Donald Trump enated have created economic uncertainty and harmed U.S. businesses and consumers, something he said would be protected against by the legislation.

"For too long, Congress has delegated its Constitutional role in overseeing international trade to the president," Kaine said in a statement. "What we've seen from the Trump administration is an abuse of that power."

The Democrats' legislation also comes as Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, said March 26 that he was planning a bill that would require the executive branch to keep Congress "fully informed" throughout any future Section 232 process and would require economic impact and national security reports throughout as well. However, Grassley said it would not strip the president of any powers.

The bill would also require a product exclusion process that is "transparent and accountable to Congress," Grassley said in a statement.

"Congress should take back some of this delegation of its Constitutional authority and rebalance trade powers between the two branches in a responsible way that doesn't impede a president's ability to protect America's national security," Grassley said.

Trump in March 2018 imposed a 25% tariff on global steel imports and a 10% on U.S. imports of aluminum under Section 232, much to the chagrin of many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

For their inclusion on the metals tariffs, Canada, Mexico and the European Union imposed steep retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports, including some targeted at exports from states of powerful lawmakers.

Grassley, who has said he and his committee will not consider the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement until the Trump administration lifts tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Canada and Mexico, is one of several Republicans who have spoken out to some degree on Trump's tariff power.

Grassley told reporters March 27 that the Trump administration is not yet ready to lift its steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico, saying that Trump flatly told him "no" regarding that possibility the prior day, according to a Bloomberg report.

Several Republicans from states hardest hit by the metals tariffs, including Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, also have taken a stance against Trump's unilateral tariff power under the Section 232 provision.

Trump invoked an investigation on the grounds of national security in a separate matter that is looming large — U.S. imports of automobiles and auto parts.

The president is reviewing the U.S. Commerce Department's report and findings on whether there is a national security threat posed by a reliance on imports of autos and auto parts. Trump has until mid-May to make a decision on whether to impose tariffs, but he has received widespread objections from many automakers and some lawmakers.

The EU has already threatened further retaliatory measures against more American exports should auto tariffs be implemented.