Senate GOP plots next steps to thwart Trump's trade war

Senate Republicans are exploring possible next steps to curb President Trump’s authority to impose tariffs for national security reasons without congressional approval, a day after a nonbinding vote and increasing fears that Trump has already sparked a dangerous trade war.

Wednesday’s nonbinding vote in the Senate passed with overwhelming support in what many described as a sharp message to the president against his trade war. There are no signs that further action is imminent, but it’s an issue that some Republicans are giving more thought to, especially among Republicans who worry that other nations’ retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. are starting to hit home, particularly among Midwest farmers.

“They’re like shattered glass in farm country,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on how tariffs affect his constituents. “It’s like getting a rock in your windshield and all of the sudden the glass starts to crack. … Right now in farm country, we’re about to lose the windshield.”

The so-called Section 232 tariffs remain a tenuous issue for some Republicans, who are hesitant to take on the president but are still alarmed by the tariff push on allies for national security purposes. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he expects the Senate Finance Committee to take up the issue in the near future.

“There’s obviously some angst at using [section 232] being used appropriately. … We’re not through with that,” said Cornyn. The No. 2 Senate Republican, however, admitted that a binding vote on the issue would earn fewer votes than the nonbinding resolution Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., brought to the floor this week, because that would be a more direct shot at Trump, and because Trump is unlikely to support it.

“I don’t think he’s likely to sign anything,” Cornyn said, adding that Corker’s nonbinding language that passed in an 88-11 vote was “appropriate.”

“I think many of us don’t see the benefit of getting into a big public fight with the president of this issue,” he said. “There’s other ways we can handle it that would make the point.”

Still, the troika of Senate Republicans leading the way against the tariffs for national security purposes — Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Corker — are plotting to get a binding vote on the Senate floor in the coming months after being denied multiple times over the past two months.

Flake said he does not expect anything to come out of the Finance Committee and that their best hope is attaching legislation to the spending bill in September. He predicted that many Republicans will realize the damage of tariffs over the month during time back in their states.

“I think it will [get attached]. I think there is enough time between now and then for the tariffs to really start biting,” Flake said, saying it might only take a few weeks. “By then, the Congress will be plenty ready to, if the president hasn’t taken action already.”

“Everybody who’s gone to the White House and come back detects no strategy there at all. None,” Flake said, adding that many members publicly support of Trump privately ask him for an end game. “I’m baffled by it.”

For now, though, some Republicans seem willing to give Trump some leash on the issue and are confident he can strike worthwhile trade deals.

“Sometimes you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. “Now, that doesn’t mean to make omelet, you’ve got to break the eggs and kill the chicken and shoot the rooster.”

“I don’t think that’s where the president is headed,” Kennedy added.

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