Jeff Flake: I'm drafting a bill to nuke Trump's tariffs

Bob Corker’s onboard too. What are the odds that the two lame ducks in the Senate would be among the most vocal opponents of the new policy?

Will McConnell dare bring Flake’s bill to the floor for a vote? I hope so. We deserve to know how many “fiscal conservatives” are prepared to roll over and vote for King Donald’s right to slap arbitrary taxes on consumer goods because they’re afraid of Hannity running a nasty segment about them or whatever. Let’s put everyone on the record on Flake’s bill. I don’t think McConnell will do it, though. As sympathetic as he is to Flake’s position, I’m sure, he cares more about protecting the party’s midterm candidates than holding an almost certainly futile vote to undo Trump’s protectionism. If you want Dean Heller to hold his seat in Nevada, forcing him to choose between pissing off Republicans back home by defying Trump and supporting job-killing tariffs that might wreck the GOP this fall is a weird way to do it.

Besides, by what right should power over trade be housed in, um, the people’s elected representatives?

“Some of us are just waiting to see what he does, and then we’ll draft legislation quickly to nullify it,” said Sen. Jeff Flake said Thursday. “That’s what I’m going to do.”…

GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said he is considering backing legislation to require congressional approval for such actions.

“Congress in so many areas has ceded power and authority to the president,” said Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “We should probably start taking some of that back.”

Probably! But how likely is it to happen? Flake sounded skeptical when he was asked about it a few days ago, telling the Daily Beast, “Trade votes are tough here. Any trade deal before Congress will get politicized. It’ll be a shirts vs. skins kind of exercise. So this notion that we could exit out and somehow get a better deal is just crazy.” He’s feeling feistier today, though:

“These so-called ‘flexible tariffs’ are a marriage of two lethal poisons to economic growth – protectionism and uncertainty. Trade wars are not won, they are only lost. Congress cannot be complicit as the administration courts economic disaster. I will immediately draft and introduce legislation to nullify these tariffs, and I urge my colleagues to pass it before this exercise in protectionism inflicts any more damage on the economy.”

Uncertainty is a theme that recurs when Republican senators are asked about the tariffs, practically as much as the economic consequences of new taxes are. “There’s no real stability or predictability” to Trump’s proposal, complained Pat Roberts; just this morning, Trump crowed about the tariffs that “I’ll have a right to go up or down depending on the country and I’ll have a right to drop out countries or add countries,” intensifying fears that the actual rates will be largely a matter of presidential whim. Flake’s worried about that too:

It’s not that unbelievable. Trump views foreign policy the way a mafia boss views turf battles (and he admires gangsters like Putin who view it the same way). It’s a zero-sum game and our gang has more muscle than any other country, so why not use it to squeeze the weaker ones? That being so, it’s not an exaggeration to say that he views policy uncertainty as a good thing, even in the realm of trade. After all, if your enemy — and “enemies” here include Canada and Australia and every other country in the world, because zero-sum — lives in constant fear of you turning on him, he’ll be more eager to please you. In theory. In practice, and especially in trade matters, things aren’t always zero-sum. Uncertainty corrodes prosperity. And allies annoyed by your bellicosity not only might not bend over backwards to please you, they might punish you via other means for trying to intimidate them, say, by reducing coordination on intelligence. That’s what Mattis and Tillerson are worried about. Trump sees everything as a straightforward binary test of strength, with the U.S. unfailingly the stronger contestant in any dispute with a foreign country. But not everything’s a test of strength and it certainly ain’t always binary. Most of his advisors see that, at least until he has all of them replaced with cranks like Peter Navarro.

Oh well. To override a Trump veto, Flake’s bill would need two-thirds in both chambers. What are the odds of crossover votes from Democrats after … this?

I’m glad we elected a “Republican” who’ll impose Big Labor’s preferred trade policy as president. Here he is at this afternoon’s announcement about the tariffs. Paul Ryan issued a rare statement this afternoon breaking with Trump on the new policy, but whatever. The odds of him bringing legislation to the floor to overturn the policy are even slimmer than they are for McConnell in the Senate.