A bipartisan group of senators struck back against President Trump’s new tariffs on U.S. allies, announcing legislation Wednesday that would give Congress a chance to review any new duties before they take effect.
The bill would also apply retroactively to any decisions made over the last two years, meaning Mr. Trump’s decision to impose a 25 percent duty in steel imports and a 10 percent duty on aluminum could be subject to congressional approval.
Mr. Trump last week announced he wouldn’t carve out exceptions to the tariffs for Canada, Mexico and the European Union, and those governments announced retaliatory duties, sparking fears of a global trade war.
The president justified the tariffs by citing national security, saying the country needed a predictable supply of those metals, though he also said he was bothered by what he perceived as unfair competition.
Those claims didn’t sit well with senators who said the president was gaming the system.
“Making claims regarding national security to justify what is inherently an economic question not only harms the very people we all want to help and impairs relations with our allies but also could invite our competitors to retaliate,” said Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr. Corker and fellow frequent Trump critic Sen. Jeff Flake both sponsored the bill, but so did less combative Republicans such as Sen. Ron Johnson and Pat Toomey. The bill also drew backing from Sens. Mark Warner, Heidi Heitkamp, Brian Schatz and Chris Van Hollen — a group that spans Democrats’ ideological spectrum.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected the proposed tariff legislation in an interview Wednesday with Sirius XM’s chief Washington correspondent Olivier Knox.
“I don’t think we need to be trying to rein in the president through legislation,” Mr. McConnell said. “Number One, it would be an exercise in futility, because he wouldn’t sign it.”
The White House has defended Mr. Trump’s tariffs, saying the president was clear during the campaign that he was going to try to use the levers at his disposal to reconfigure the trade playing field.
“The world trading system is a mess. It is broken down,” Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, told reporters Wednesday. “Insofar as fairness and reciprocity and, ultimately, free trade, I think this is contributing to our economic growth and our confidence.”
Polling suggests the country may be sympathetic to Mr. Trump’s concerns, but lawmakers in Washington are not.
Republicans and Democrats alike have said they disagreed with the president’s moves, particularly as it relates to America’s allies. They have said they would welcome action against China instead.
The new legislation is the most pointed reaction yet to the president’s trade moves.
The lawmakers who wrote the new bill cast their effort as a step toward reclaiming power from the presidency over key economic decisions.