Report: GOP may vote to block Trump's new Mexico tariffs

Must we endure another round of this charade, in which congressional Republicans feint towards reclaiming some legislative power from the president before capitulating?

The best we can hope for is a show vote in which a majority of the Senate — but not quite a veto-proof majority — votes to rebuke him. That would allow a few vulnerable Republicans on the ballot next year, like Cory Gardner and Susan Collins, to go on record in opposing the tariffs. But they won’t get 67 votes for a measure that would effectively align the GOP with Mexico against Trump on the subject of immigration. Antagonizing Trump’s personality cult is risky for a Republican incumbent; antagonizing them by siding with the source of America’s border problem and humiliating Trump in the process smells of a primary death wish.

In fact, per WaPo, in order to block the tariffs they’d also need to revoke his declaration of a national emergency at the border that’s currently being used to justify building the wall. Siding with Mexico against Trump on tariffs *and* the wall, at a moment when the crush of asylum-seekers from the south really is at crisis levels? They’re not even close to collectively having enough balls to do that.

Congressional Republicans have begun discussing whether they may have to vote to block President Trump’s planned new tariffs on Mexico, potentially igniting a second standoff this year over Trump’s use of executive powers to circumvent Congress, people familiar with the talks said.

The vote, which would be the GOP’s most dramatic act of defiance since Trump took office, could also have the effect of blocking billions of dollars in border wall funding that the president had announced in February when he declared a national emergency at the southern border, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

Trump’s plans to impose tariffs on Mexico — with which the United States has a free-trade agreement — rely on the president’s declaration of a national emergency at the border. But the law gives Congress the right to override the national emergency determination by passing a resolution of disapproval

Aside from a resolution of disapproval, other lawmakers have argued that Congress should pass legislation that would claw back tariff authority from the executive branch. Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) has introduced a bill that would require congressional approval before a president imposes tariffs under the auspices of national security, and again on Monday made a case for his legislation.

The vote in March to revoke Trump’s emergency decree went 59/41, an embarrassment for Trump insofar as it required him to veto the bill but comfortably short of the two-thirds majority needed to make the revocation veto-proof. A re-vote on the matter with dubious tariffs now packaged with it might attract a few new Republicans. Gardner, for instance, voted with Trump in March by opposing the Senate’s revocation bid, evidence that he was worried about a primary challenge. Now that Trump’s threatening to escalate the immigration dispute into an economic slowdown, Gardner might feel obliged to protect his left flank and vote yes this time. Same goes for the two Texas senators, Cornyn and Cruz. They also voted with Trump on the border emergency but tariffs on Mexican goods will hit their home state hard. Cornyn’s up for reelection next year and might feel obliged to flip.

Cruz probably won’t despite the pain to his home state and the fact that he was safely reelected to a new six-year term just last year. He’ll never give up on his dream of being president, and he’s convinced that dream depends on becoming the favored choice of Trumpy populists in the 2024 primaries. If backing self-defeating protectionism is what it takes to be a nationally viable candidate these days, that’s what Cruz will do.

They can clear 60 votes to rebuke Trump this time, in other words, but they surely won’t clear 67. This WaPo story sounds like a bit of saber-rattling aimed at getting Trump to rethink the tariffs before they go into effect next week. That’s always a possibility; it wouldn’t be the first time he’s floated a bold new measure targeting Mexico only to walk it back when Republicans pulled him aside and asked, “Are you nuts?” Some Trump observers have noticed that he tends to get trigger-happy with new tariffs when the news cycle turns bad for him, a sort of psychological crutch that lets him reclaim control of the national political narrative. This is shaping up to be a good week for him with Mueller off the radar and the focus on his UK visit, so maybe he’ll relent. He didn’t sound ambivalent about the new policy when he was asked about it this morning, though, as you’ll see in the clip below.

The X factor is the USMCA. Everyone agrees that the new tariffs will make his successor to NAFTA harder to ratify in Congress and in Mexico’s legislature. If the GOP wanted to play hardball, they could threaten to block the deal unless he rescinds the tariffs. The problem with that tactic is that they’d be confronting a guy who’s an unreliable negotiating partner even on his best days and who seems to view all political conflicts as tests of strength. Republicans would be gambling that if the standoff escalated, with Trump standing firm on his Mexico tariffs and Congress killing off the USMCA as a result, that Trump would grudgingly stick with NAFTA until a new deal could be negotiated. It’s in his and his party’s interest to do so, after all: Leaving the U.S. without trade deals with Canada and Mexico would wreak economic havoc with the election less than 18 months away. Trump being Trump, though, it’s anyone’s guess how’d he respond to brinksmanship. He’s threatened before to withdraw the U.S. from NAFTA unilaterally, whether that’s legal or not. If Congress pulled the plug on the USMCA to protest his tariffs, he might actually do it out of spite. What do Senate Republicans do then?