U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., today took to the Senate floor to denounce Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues for not allowing a vote on his proposal to require congressional approval of proposed tariffs by the president.
In an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, Corker said "it is ridiculous" that amendments can't be voted on in the U.S. Senate, including one he is pushing to limit presidential authority on trade barriers which he said most Senators seem to support.
"I haven't heard a single senator on our side that hasn't expressed concern to the president directly about what's happening with tariffs," said Corker. "Our farm folks are worried about NAFTA. Our auto manufacturers are worried about Canada and Mexico and what's happening in Europe. Our steel and aluminum folks are concerned. I haven't heard a person that hasn't had some degree of concern. And all my amendment would do is say, 'Look, Mr. President, you go negotiate, but when you finish, come back, and as senators and as House members, let us vote up or down.'"
The bipartisan legislation is sponsored by Corker and Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).
Corker offered the amendment in response to Trump's recent decision to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports, even from U.S. allies, arguing they are needed for national security.
Brazil, Argentina and Australia agreed to limit steel exports to the U.S. to avoid tariffs.
Corker is offering his tariff proposal as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the Senate is currently debating and could approve later this week.
Corker said the Senate is abdicating its oversight responsibilities by allowing Trump to impose tariffs under the guise of national security without any checks from Congress.
I can't believe it," continued Corker. "I would bet that 95 percent of the people on this side of the aisle support intellectually this amendment. I would bet that. I would bet higher than 95 percent. 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 If people don't like it, they can vote up or down. People can vote up or down. But, no, the United States Senate right now, on June the 12th, 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. And so let's don't do anything that might upset the president.'"
Corker last week was told that his amendment may have a so-called "blue slip" issue should it reach the House of Representatives, a technical issue that requires revenue-related legislation to originate in the House. He was asked by Senate leadership to fix the issue, which is what he sought to do on the Senate floor. Corker said he asked for unanimous consent to place the current NDAA text on a House-passed revenue shell.
Changing the shell of a bill is routinely done as part of the legislative process, including on the fiscal year 2017 NDAA.
Corker said such procedures are "used as customarily as waking up in the morning and drinking a cup of coffee," he said. "It happens all the time."
He also asked that his amendment be called up and made in order so the body could vote up or down on the merits of the amendment. If his unanimous consent agreement had been adopted, nothing else related to the NDAA or where the Senate currently is in the process would have changed.
But the as the floor manager, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) objected, stalling Corker's effort.