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- Top Republicans are blocking an amendment to the annual defense bill that would limit President Donald Trump’s ability to slap tariffs on trading partners in the name of national security.
- Sen. Bob Corker, who authored the amendment, unloaded on Republicans who are afraid of upsetting Trump by reining in some of his power.
WASHINGTON – After a broad bipartisan amendment to rein in President Donald Trump’s ability to slap tariffs on trading partners appeared to be gaining steam, it quickly dissipated when it became clear top Republicans could not stomach legislation to which Trump will take offense.
Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, along with several others in a bipartisan group, are pushing to add an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, that would subject tariffs under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act to congressional review.
A a handful of lawmakers have begun to change their positions on trade to more properly align with Trump. Sen. David Perdue, a longtime Trump ally who has traditionally supported free trade, reversed course to support the White House plan to combat what he says are unfair practices by trading partners.
“Like me, President Trump is an outsider to this political process. He is a business guy who spent his career successfully negotiating deals all over the world,” Perdue said. “For years, he has seen how American has often been treated unfairly when it comes to trade.”
Republicans are afraid of upsetting Trump
The fight over Corker’s amendment boiled over on Tuesday when Republican Sen. James Inhofe used a procedural method to block the amendment, prompting Corker to take his frustrations to the Senate floor.
Corker excoriated his Republican colleagues for being too afraid to upset Trump by rebuking a policy position of his that a majority of Republicans privately find very harmful to the economy.
“I would bet that 95% of the people on this side of the aisle support intellectually this amendment. I would bet that. I would bet higher than 95% and a lot of them would vote for it if came to a vote,” Corker said. “But no, no, no. ‘Gosh, we might poke the bear’ is the language I’ve been hearing in hallways. The president might get upset with us as senators if we vote on the Corker amendment, so we’re going to do everything we can to block it.'”
Corker made clear that his anger was not deliberately directed at Inhofe, who is tasked with managing the amendment as part of the NDAA. But Corker later added to reporters that it is “ridiculous” that amendments are not getting votes.
On Wednesday, Corker told NBC News that the blind loyalty to Trump is bordering on becoming a cult.
“It’s almost, it’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?” Corker said. “It’s not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation as it relates to a president that happens to be of, purportedly, of the same party.”
The idea that Corker’s amendment could upset the president is fairly obvious, given that trade is one of the areas Trump has been consistent on for years.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told reporters that though he would like to see the Corker amendment get a vote, “I don’t think this is a time to pick a fight with the President in the run up to a midterm election.”
The tariffs initially exempted certain trading partners close to the US like Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, but the administration recently place them on those allies as well. In addition, Trump just wrapped up a contentious G7 summit in Canada, where foreign leaders were angered and confused by the new policies.
And several countries have announced retaliatory measures against the tariffs, many of which will hit Americans in the agricultural industry.
“Canadians, we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.