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US Senate rebukes Trump's Section 232 tariffs in symbolic vote

Pittsburgh — The US Senate on Wednesday passed a non-binding measure calling for Congress to have a role in deciding whether tariffs should be imposed using a national security rationale under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act.

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The non-binding motion, put forward by Senators Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee), Jeff Flake (Republican-Arizona) and Pat Toomey (Republican-Pennsylvania), passed 88-11. The "motion to instruct" approved Wednesday directs a House-Senate committee to include language in a spending bill that would give Congress a part in deciding whether to impose tariffs for national security purposes, however as a non-binding vote members of the committee will not be required to follow it.

The vote follows President Donald Trump's decision to impose a 25% tariff on steel imports and 10% tariff on aluminum imports in March under Section 232, which tasks the Department of Commerce to look into whether imports of certain products are a threat to US national security. Commerce in May launched another Section 232 investigation looking into the effect of automotive imports on US national security.

Corker, Flake and Toomey said they will continue to push for a binding vote on legislation introduced in June that would require congressional approval of national-security designated tariffs.

"Today, the Senate issued a clear rebuke of this administration's trade policy," Flake said in a statement. "This vote represents the strongest and most straightforward message this chamber has delivered against the administration's abuse of trade authority. Imposing tariffs on products from allies that pose no threat to our national security is just plain wrong. I will continue to push for binding legislation that requires congressional approval of national security-designated tariffs. We have to rein in abuse of presidential authority and restore Congress' constitutional authority in this regard."

The senators in late June attempted to get legislation regarding Section 232 tariffs attached to a recent farm bill, however the move was blocked by Senator Sherrod Brown (Democrat-Ohio).

--Justine Coyne, justine.coyne@spglobal.com

--Edited by Richard Rubin, richard.rubin@spglobal.com