Key Republican Orrin Hatch threatens to check Trump's tariff policy

  • Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch threatens to push for legislation to limit President Donald Trump's trade authority if he continues to impose tariffs.
  • Hatch has criticized Trump's tariff policy repeatedly, but he would become the most important Republican to back a legislative effort to curb the president's power.
  • Senators including Bob Corker have pushed for a measure to require congressional approval to impose tariffs for national security reasons.

Key Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch threatened Tuesday to push for legislation to curb President Donald Trump's trade authority if he moves forward with more tariffs.

It marks the strongest warning yet issued by Hatch — a Trump supporter, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the longest serving Senate Republican — about pushing back against the president's tariff policy, which the senator has repeatedly criticized. If Hatch would back a bill to limit Trump's powers, he would become the most important Republican to do so.

"If the administration continues forward with its misguided and reckless reliance on tariffs, I will work to advance trade legislation to curtail presidential trade authority," the Utah Republican said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "I am discussing legislative options with colleagues both on and off the Finance Committee and I will continue to do so."

However, Hatch said that he would "much rather work with the administration to advance a trade agenda that serves the interests of the American people and job creators."

The senator's comments underscore the bubbling GOP opposition to Trump's tariff policy, which many Republican lawmakers have argued will damage both American consumers and businesses. As Trump recently put tariffs on most steel and aluminum imports and a variety of Chinese goods, prompting retaliation from major trading partners, some Republicans pushed for a measure to limit the president's authority.

Hatch's support would give such legislation powerful backing it so far lacks. He did not signal what specific action he would support.

Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah 
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah 

His GOP colleagues Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Jeff Flake of Arizona, among others, have pushed for a vote on legislation that would require congressional approval for Trump to impose tariffs for national security reasons. Trump used that justification to enact the steel and aluminum tariffs, and could cite it again to put possible duties on automobile and auto parts imports.

In a tweet before Hatch's remarks Tuesday, Corker said, "the dam is finally breaking. Thankfully."

"As the president taxes Americans with tariffs, he pushes away our allies and further strengthens [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. It is time for Congress to step up and take back our authorities. We have legislation to do that. Let’s vote," he wrote.

Hatch said he supports moves to respond to unfair trade practices, but argued that "the administration’s recent actions are misguided and will harm, rather than protect, the American people." He called them "a tax on American businesses and consumers" that threaten to hurt "farmers, ranchers and other exporters."

He said he has heard "deep concerns" from auto manufacturers "about the consequences" of putting tariffs on cars.

Republican Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and heavy favorite to win the retiring Hatch's seat in November, has called for Trump to remove recent tariffs on China. Earlier this month, he said he is "not a fan of trade wars."

GOP leaders have so far resisted efforts to vote on the bill championed by Corker. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has criticized the tariffs, he has called a vote on the legislation an "exercise in futility" because Trump will likely veto it.

The furthest the Senate has gone so far is passing a nonbinding motion this month to instruct members negotiating on an appropriations bill with the House to include language that would give lawmakers the ability to curb Trump's tariff powers. It compels neither Congress nor the president to take a specific action.

The motion passed by an overwhelming 88-11 vote.