- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Congress delivered twin rebukes to President Trump on Wednesday, with senators demanding a larger role in setting trade policy and a key House panel voting to spank him over family separations at the border.

The Senate took its first bipartisan step toward restraining Mr. Trump on trade, while China warned it would retaliate further against the U.S. after the administration threatened a larger round of tariffs on Chinese products.

The nonbinding measure, approved by a vote of 88-11, would give Congress a greater role when the president invokes a national security emergency to impose tariffs, as Mr. Trump has done in recent months with levies on imported steel and aluminum.

“This is a rebuke of the president’s abuse of trade authority,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who sponsored the measure with two other Republican lawmakers.

On the House side, a key committee voted to punish the Trump administration for separating families at the border. It threatened to dock the health and human services secretary’s budget for every day the administration fails to submit a reunification plan to Congress.

The separations — an outgrowth of Mr. Trump’s attempted zero-tolerance border policy — dominated action in the House Appropriations Committee as lawmakers worked on the 2019 spending bill for the Health and Human Services Department.

The committee approved one Democratic amendment to cut money from HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s office by $100,000 a day starting in August unless the administration writes and gives Congress a detailed plan for how it will reunify children separated from parents.

“This manufactured crisis is child abuse,” said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat and the amendment’s sponsor. “There is no plan. There never was a plan.”

While only a test vote, the Senate’s action reflected the growing disapproval in the president’s own party of his confrontational trade policy, including escalating tariffs with China, the European Union and Canada, as Mr. Trump seeks to shave U.S. trade deficits. Of 51 Republican senators, 39 voted for the resolution and 11 voted against it. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is fighting brain cancer, was absent.

Many lawmakers say the trade wars already are hurting U.S. employers with higher prices for steel and aluminum, and that farmers are feeling the pinch of retaliatory tariffs on crops such as soybeans. The stock market fell Wednesday on Mr. Trump’s latest announcement of more tariffs against China. The Dow Jones industrial average declined 0.88 percent to close at 24,700.45.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said the administration’s tariffs are “like shooting ourselves in both feet” because they raise prices for consumers while reducing revenue, profits, wages and jobs.

“These tariffs are a big mistake,” Mr. Alexander said. “They will take us in the wrong direction. I have not been successful in talking to the president about this, but I intend to keep trying.”

Mr. Trump, who was attending a NATO summit in Belgium, said Americans should be patient with his tariff actions. He said he is trying to help U.S. farmers get a better deal.

“Other countries’ trade barriers and tariffs have been destroying their businesses,” the president tweeted. “I will open things up, better than ever before, but it can’t go too quickly. I am fighting for a level playing field for our farmers, and will win!”

The administration said Wednesday that it had signed an agreement with ZTE Corp. that paves the way for the Chinese tech company to resume operations after a nearly three-month ban on doing business with American suppliers.

The ban on China’s No. 2 telecommunications equipment maker will be removed once the company deposits $400 million into an escrow account, the Commerce Department said. The ban on ZTE has been a source of friction between Washington and Beijing.

Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the move ignores national security concerns about the company and “it lets ZTE off the hook for evading sanctions against Iran and North Korea with a slap on the wrist.”

China accused the U.S. of bullying and warned that it would hit back after the administration raised the stakes in their trade dispute, threatening 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods.

Despite its rebuke, the House committee tried to bolster Mr. Trump’s border policy by approving a proposal to allow families to be held in detention facilities for longer periods.

“Clearly, this is a vexing problem that several administrations have wrestled with, and frankly none of them have been able to overcome, but we do want to make sure we try to keep families together during this process,” said Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican and author of the proposal.

As many as 3,000 juveniles have been separated from parents for a number of reasons. Most were separated because their parents were prosecuted and jailed for illegally sneaking into the U.S., though in some cases the government spotted signs of more dangerous criminal behavior or abuse.

A judge has ordered reunification of all possible children, but the government has struggled to meet the court’s deadlines.

Dozens of children younger than 5 were reunited with parents this week — and then the families were released into the community, undercutting Mr. Trump’s demand to end “catch-and-release.”

The administration says it feels compelled to release them, thanks to a 2015 court order setting a time limit on how long children can be detained, even when with their parents.

The committee did adopt Democratic proposals to keep migrant siblings together in the event they are separated from their parents, to prevent detained children from being medicated until they have been examined by a medical professional, and to express the general sense of Congress that immigrant families should not be separated.

Lawmakers rejected others, including one that would block federal funds from being used to house children in “large scale” facilities except in special circumstances.

The proposals were offered as amendments to the 2019 spending bill that funds the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. The overall bill totals about $177 billion, making it the largest nondefense discretionary spending measure out of the 12 individual appropriations bills the House is considering.

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