The bill marks a domestic rebuke of President Donald Trump’s aluminum and steel tariffs just as he heads to the G-7 summit in Quebec where tensions with allied nations over the penalties are running high.
Trump on June 1 invoked Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act to impose a 25 percent surcharge on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum from Europe, Mexico and Canada. However, Corker and other lawmakers argue Trump has misapplied the law.
The European Union, which exported some 5.5 million tons of steel to the U.S. last year, claims Trump’s move is protectionism and breaks global trade rules. The EU on Wednesday announced it will start imposing duties from July on $3.4 billion worth of U.S. steel, agricultural and other products, including bourbon, peanut butter, cranberries and orange juice.
The defense industry had been bracing for retaliation from allies, and on Wednesday, leaders in other sectors welcomed Corker’s legislation. The American International Automobile Dealers Association hailed Corker’s bill as protecting American workers and 570,000 auto retail jobs.
“The Trump administration’s demonstrated willingness to use Section 232 to declare certain industries, including steel, aluminum, and autos, threats to national security, and punish them with harsh tariffs, is an actual threat to the American economy,” AIADA President and CEO Cody Lusk said in a statement Wednesday.
Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reportedly had a testy phone call over the tariffs on May 25, wherein Trudeau expressed skepticism at the national security justification. Trump reportedly quipped: “Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?” referring to the War of 1812.
To clean up, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Democrat, Eliot Engel, held a call with Robert Nault, chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development in the Canadian House of Commons.
“He reassured Mr. Nault that the President’s irresponsible actions do not represent how the majority of our Congress feels about Canada and the importance of the U.S.-Canada partnership,” said Engel’s readout of the call.
In the Senate, Corker’s bill requires the president to submit to Congress any proposal to adjust imports in the interest of national security under Section 232. For a 60-day period following submission, legislation to approve the proposal will qualify for expedited consideration, guaranteeing the opportunity for debate and a vote.
The requirement would apply to all Section 232 actions moving forward, as well as those taken within the past two years.
The legislation has a broad base of support. It’s co-sponsored by 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; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; and Ben Sasse, R-Neb.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Toomey argued the tariffs were unwise because they will raise prices for consumers and the American government. He chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection.
“Arguably, it undermines our national security because it raises the cost of the steel [for] our defense needs,” Toomey said. “We pay more for that steel. How is that good for America?”
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.