What others say: Senate stands back amid escalating trade conflict

  • Saturday, June 23, 2018 11:30pm
  • Opinion

Would Republicans in Congress stay mute if a President imposed income or sales taxes on U.S. industries on an arbitrary whim? We doubt it, so it’s dispiriting to see Senate Republicans let Donald Trump impose tens of billions of dollars in border taxes without so much as a vote of protest.

That’s the sad story as GOP Senators last week blocked a vote on Bob Corker’s amendment to reclaim at least some of the power to impose tariffs that Congress has ceded to Presidents. Perhaps Mr. Trump took the silence as assent because he is escalating. On Monday he threatened tariffs on up to $450 billion in Chinese goods, and financial markets are finally losing their foolish complacency. Shares in exporters vulnerable to retaliation like Boeing and Caterpillar fell more than 3.6% Tuesday.

Mr. Corker’s bipartisan measure would have required Congress to approve trade restrictions that Mr. Trump is imposing under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. This is the law that lets a President impose more or less whatever tariffs he wants with an elastic definition of national security. Mr. Trump has used this open-ended authority to inflict his 25% tariff on steel and 10% on aluminum, and he’s threatening a 25% levy on imported cars under the same law. His new China tariffs are based on a different legal rationale (Section 301).

“I would bet that 95 percent of the people on this side of the aisle support intellectually this amendment,” Mr. Corker said on the floor with some acidity. “And a lot of them would vote for it if it came to a vote. But, no, no, no. ‘Gosh, we might poke the bear’ is the language I’ve been hearing in the hallways.”

Mr. Corker is right that GOP leaders fear a Trump tweet in the middle of election season. Some of them are also griping in private that Mr. Corker has the luxury of bucking the President because he isn’t running for re-election. But Mr. Corker’s modest bill isn’t the political threat to Republicans. The growing damage from Mr. Trump’s trade war is.

By not allowing trade votes, Republicans are giving Mr. Trump free rein to impose tariffs that are doing substantial economic harm to many of their constituents. Farm state Senators deserve a chance to vote against tariffs that are spurring retaliation against U.S. agricultural exports of everything from pork to apples. So do Senators who represent U.S. manufacturers. The fear of a Trump tantrum is precluding an important fight about what the party of free enterprise supposedly believes.

The economic fallout may also hurt the GOP’s chances of holding the Senate in November. Democrats Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) and Claire McCaskill (Missouri) are running against the tariffs as a way to oppose Mr. Trump and defend their states’ agricultural interests. The longer Republicans shrink from standing up to Mr. Trump’s protectionism, the more voters will conclude that Republicans in Congress are complicit in the damage.

—The Wall Street Journal. June 19, 2018

More in Opinion

U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka and former President Donald Trump stand on stage during a July 2022 rally in Anchorage. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Tshibaka’s insincere defense of democracy

There are a lot of possible explanations why fewer votes were cast last November

Capitol
Opinion: Humanism and the billionaire class

Compromise is the right thing to do and they should do it.

tt
Opinion: The challenged truths of 3 elected representatives

“Politicians lying is nothing new.”

This photo shows the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The wrong way to define demand

And as glaciers go, the Mendenhall is only a minor attraction.

Zachary Hamilton (Courtesy photo)
Borough mayoral candidate: ‘The best is yet to come’

Zachary Hamilton is running for Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor in the special election

Love, INC in Soldotna, Alaska, provides homelessness prevention and housing services to people on the Kenai Peninsula. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: COVID relief funds help homeless children in Alaska

We need to sustain this kind of investment.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Alaska must act now to capitalize on carbon markets

Alaska has vast forests and coastlines that can provide natural carbon management

1
Opinion: MLK Day clinics offered in the ‘spirit of service and advocacy for equality and social justice’

Attorneys across the state will be spending their holiday as “A Day On, Not a Day Off”

The M/V Tustumena comes into Homer after spending the day in Seldovia in 2010. (Homer News File)
Opinion: New federal funding could aid Alaska Marine Highway System

The evidence is clear that the AMHS is in grave danger of failing and moving into Alaska’s history books

(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: I’ve seen the union difference

As a community we can show solidarity…

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Sullivan’s irrelevance in defense of democracy

Two years ago this week, supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol…

People vote in polling booths at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: What’s on your 2023 schedule so far?

There is a Kenai Peninsula Borough Special Mayoral Election coming up in February