July 17, 2018, by Steven T. Dennis
Some Senate Republicans revived calls to limit President Donald Trump’s tariff authority as a way rein him in amid an uproar over his praise of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, as other lawmakers said they’d back new sanctions on Russia.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker said pushing back on Trump’s tariffs would be a “perfect first step” for Congress.
“He’s taxing Americans, he’s pushing our allies away,” Corker told reporters Tuesday. “When he does that he’s strengthening Putin. So to me the very first step that benefits Americans would be for us to go ahead and strongly pass this tariff legislation that we have and take back those authorities.”
Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch separately went to the Senate floor to warn he would back tariff legislation if Trump doesn’t back off his threats to massively expand his trade war, saying it threatens to undermine an otherwise “roaring” economy.
“If the administration continues forward with its misguided and reckless reliance on tariffs, I will work to advance trade legislation to curtail presidential trade authority,” Hatch said.
Trump is facing broad, bipartisan criticism following his summit and news conference with Putin Monday in Helsinki, where the president praised Putin and questioned the U.S. intelligence community’s consensus that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. But it’s not yet clear whether Republican leaders are prepared to go beyond another round of statements of disapproval and nonbinding measures.
But he may have emboldened some Republicans who’ve shied away from a direct confrontation with Trump on issues such as trade because of his tight grip on Republican voters.
The Senate last week passed 88-11 a non-binding resolution sponsored by Corker that endorsed a congressional role in tariffs. But Corker thus far has been unable to get a vote on his bill to require that Trump get congressional approval for tariffs based on national security. The president has announced wide-ranging tariffs on steel and aluminum imports on national security grounds, and is threatening to use that rationale to impose as much as a 25 percent tariff on auto imports.
Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, who has also warned of building momentum to rein in Trump on trade, is expected to meet with Trump at 2 p.m. along with six other Republicans to talk taxes. Brady said also plans to press Trump to resolve a dispute with China over trade.
Senators Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Democrat Chris Van Hollen, backed by GOP Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, have separately proposed legislation imposing stiff sanctions on Russia’s energy and banking sectors if Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats – not Trump – certifies Russia interferes in a future election.
Other senators, including Corker and Republican Susan Collins, said they want to look at the idea.
“That certainly would send a very strong message to the Russians, which is needed to counter what the president said yesterday,” said Collins, who said she’s still “astonished” by Trump’s remarks.
At a press conference Tuesday morning, Speaker Paul Ryan noted Congress had already passed sanctions against Russia last year, but opened the door to going further.
“If the Foreign Affairs Committee, or the Financial Services Committee, and the Senate Banking Committee, think there are other sanctions that we have not yet placed upon Russia, I’m more than happy to consider those,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to suggest any congressional action following the Helsinki summit.
While the bulk of Republican reaction was critical of the president’s performance, some of the president’s House allies rallied to his defense.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows pushed back on the assertion by former CIA Director John Brennan that Trump’s comments were treasonous.
“In order for something to be treasonous, it has to undermine who we are as a nation” Meadows said, adding that a mere press conference has never risen to that threshold.
Speaking at a “Conversations with Conservatives” event on Capitol Hill, half a dozen House Republicans said people should focus on Trump’s deeds, not his words, citing unrelated conservative priorities such as nominating Supreme Court Justices, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. And some blamed reporters for asking the questions that elicited Trump’s answers.
“They asked about election collusion or election meddling,” complained Representative Andy Harris. “This wasn’t a press conference. A press conference is where you talk about serious issues.”
Representative Andy Biggs called some of the questions asked of Trump and Putin “idiocy” and called the backlash against Trump’s remarks “a tempest in a teapot” and said it was good news that Trump and Putin are talking.
Meadows said Russia did meddle in the 2016 presidential election, however, and said the Congress should act to ensure the integrity of future elections. Still, Meadows said he trusts Trump.
“There are times when foreign policy sounds bad and works good,” Meadows said. “You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.”
Corker said he plans to have Secretary of State Michael Pompeo testify before his committee next Thursday on Russia. He said the White House must be thinking about what to do next to try to control the damage from Monday.
“They’ve got to be reeling,” the senator said.