Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker tried last week to get an amendment through the Senate that would have eliminated the president’s authority to impose trade tariffs.
Sen. Corker had bipartisan support for the measure that would have removed the executive branch tariff powers granted by Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act. And along with that, Mr. Corker’s move would have nullified the steel and aluminum tariffs President Trump has imposed on China and other countries to protect American manufacturers.
What’s curious about Mr. Corker’s attempt to quash the tariffs and kill the president’s authority to levy them, was who came to rescue — Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio).
Mr. Brown, no ally to Mr. Trump on pretty much any other issue, argued to block Mr. Corker’s amendment.
More than that, Mr. Brown not only argued in defense of the principle that Section 232 should be preserved because a president should have the authority to set tariffs, but Mr. Brown specifically went to bat for these tariffs by this president.
“China’s cheating has cost too many Ohio steel jobs already and I will not allow us to gut enforcement tools just as we are finally fighting back,” the senator said on the floor. “I understand concerns about our allies like Canada being included, and I am working with the Administration to negotiate a solution without letting China off the hook.”
Senate leadership agreed with Mr. Brown and would not allow a vote on the tariff-killing amendment. If a vote comes at all, Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) said, it would only be after hearings in an appropriate committee.
The amendment will not likely be the last threat to the Trump steel tariffs. The measures aimed at clawing back some of the losses for manufacturing in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and similar states devastated by the North American Free Trade Agreement will require vigilant defense.
Opponents of the tariffs point to the consequences for farmers in Ohio and elsewhere as other countries retaliate with their own trade barriers.
As Mr. Brown pointed out on the Senate floor, there certainly are unfortunate consequences of standing up for the American steel and aluminum manufacturers. But the United States should not use those difficulties as an excuse to blink.
There are remedies for agriculture and other sectors bearing the brunt of other countries’ retaliation. Rather than undermining the President’s authority to finally strike back against the unfair trade practices of nations like China, the Senate should turn its attention helping farmers and others through the fight.
The steel tariffs are succeeding. In Lorain, more than 80 employees are set to return to Republic Steel this fall when the company restarts a furnace that has been idle for more than two years.
Leveling the playing field for steel and other industries that have been decimated in middle America will not be a quick fix, and it will not happen without some struggle. But the Trump administration’s tariff strategy is the first serious attempt at addressing the issue and it is worth defending.
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