Trump Wins Fight Over Tariff Power as Limits Blocked in Senate

(Bloomberg) -- A GOP senator’s bid to rein in President Donald Trump’s tariff authority was scuttled after a Republican colleague blocked its consideration this month on the Senate floor.

Senator Bob Corker needed agreement of all senators to get a vote on whether to attach his plan to an annual defense bill. But the senator leading the defense debate, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said Tuesday he wouldn’t go along because it risked holding up Pentagon funding and wasn’t directly related.

That shelves Corker’s proposal to require presidents to get congressional approval for tariffs that are imposed on national security grounds, which Trump cited in announcing levies on steel and aluminum imports from Mexico, Canada and the European Union.

John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said last week that GOP leaders were concerned the legislation would publicly air differences with Trump over trade ahead of November’s elections.

Courting Senators

Trump last week met with 13 GOP senators who support free trade, seeking allies in an effort to end Corker’s effort. Trump made a personal appeal not to undercut him just as he’s trying to negotiate key trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Corker, a Tennessee lawmaker who is retiring in January, is increasingly open about his frustrations with Trump’s trade and other policies. On the Senate floor, Corker accused Republicans lawmakers of being afraid to “poke the bear” when they find themselves on the other side of the president.

“The United States Senate, right now, on June 12, is becoming a body where, well, we’ll do what we can do, but my gosh, if the president gets upset with us, then we might not be in the majority,” Corker said.

Inhofe said he wants to see Corker’s legislation advance in some other way, but that seems unlikely. Cornyn said last week the best course might be to send the idea to a committee, a process he wasn’t sure would be completed this year.

Authors of the legislation, which also include Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, said Trump abused the authority granted under a 1962 law by imposing tariffs on aluminum and steel imports because there isn’t a genuine national security threat. They were joined on the bill by at least 10 other senators.

Business groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had backed the legislation.

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