Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley said Tuesday he is pushing forward with legislation that would put a check on President Donald Trump’s trade powers.
Without criticizing Trump directly, the Iowa Republican said Congress has created a constitutional crisis by surrendering too much power to the president to impose tariffs.
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“It adds up to something pretty simple: Congress has delegated too much authority to the president of the United States,” Grassley said in a call with reporters.
Grassley argued that far-reaching policy decisions such as imposing tariffs should be made by the elected representatives of the people, and that the imbalance between the executive and legislative branches of government has given the president powers that go beyond what the framers of the Constitution intended.
But he emphasized that the constitutional crisis is no fault of the current president. “There’s absolutely no constitutional crisis that this president or any other president has created,” he said. “The constitutional crisis comes from the elected representatives of the people over the last 80 years making a dictator out of the presidency … let’s say making a kingship out of the presidency of the United States.”
Trump recently used emergency economic powers granted under a 1977 law to threaten a 5 percent tariff on all imports from Mexico as a way to force the country to agree to a deal on immigration. Legislation Grassley has promised to introduce wouldn’t address that law specifically but would target another measure that gives the president broad power to impose tariffs on certain imports if a review by the Commerce Department finds that those goods threaten domestic industries that are critical to national security.
Grassley said he‘s committed to finding a compromise on legislation that would rein in Trump’s authority under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. Trump has used the law to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and to threaten penalties on auto imports.
“This is not about Trump. It’s about the balancing of power,” he said.
The Iowa Republican has been trying to develop a legislative check against Section 232 for months, but finding a consensus on Capitol Hill has proved challenging.
Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have promoted dueling versions of legislation aimed at the president’s Section 232 powers. Grassley said “a lot progress” has been made in negotiations and that he expected a compromise bill to be ready “pretty soon.”
“You can imagine how the president feels about tariffs,” Grassley said. “He may not look favorably on this, so I want a very strong vote in my committee and then, in turn, a very strong vote on the floor of the Senate.”
Trump has previously asked Congress to back a House bill that seeks to expand the president’s power to impose tariffs.
Grassley also expressed optimism that the agreement to replace NAFTA would be ratified after discussing House Democratic concerns in a meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) on Monday.
“I didn’t get any feeling they couldn’t be worked out, although there’s some tough issues that we have to do to satisfy Democrats,” he said on the call. “In other words, I don’t hear any obstacles to the usual things I think can be worked out, and you know what those are — environment, labor and enforcement.“
Grassley said passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is his top objective.
Pelosi has said she would form working groups of lawmakers to address changes Democrats want to see made to certain parts of the deal.
Grassley said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer “is very confident he’s got the contacts he needs in the House of Representative to try to work out differences with Democrats.”