Senate To Vote On Motion Addressing Trump's Ability To Levy Tariffs

It’s nonbinding, but Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called it a “first step.”
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has called for Congress to restrain President Donald Trump’s ability to unilaterall
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has called for Congress to restrain President Donald Trump’s ability to unilaterally levy tariffs.

WASHINGTON ― The Senate will take a small step Wednesday aimed at restraining President Donald Trump’s ability to unilaterally levy tariffs, according to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

Flake said the Senate will address the issue of the president’s ability to levy tariffs under national security grounds, which Republicans and Democrats have accused Trump of abusing, by voting on what is called a sense of the Senate motion. Such resolutions are nonbinding, and lawmakers often use them to formally express opinions about subjects of national interest. In function, it is a message to the president and does not compel him to take or restrain him from taking any action.

Flake said the motion, which will be tacked onto the energy and water appropriations bill being considered by the Senate this week, is simply a “first step.” Last month he said he wanted a “substantive” vote on tariffs ― a higher bar than a nonbinding resolution.

“We’ll follow up with language, but we’ve just got to get to build the support,” he told reporters on Tuesday, adding that he expects the resolution to pass with bipartisan backing.

A number of Republicans, including Flake, have argued that Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum from allies like Canada and European Union member nations have opened a growing trade war that is hurting American businesses and costing jobs. 

“This is bad for our economy. It’s bad for my constituents,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said in June after calling for a vote on legislation that would restrict Trump’s trade authority.

That bill aimed to limit the president’s power under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to levy tariffs based on “national security grounds” ― a provision Trump has invoked several times.

The current motion, which will have a Senate vote on Wednesday, includes “language providing a role for Congress in making a determination on Section 232,” Flake said.