U.S. Senate approves ceremonial bill from Toomey sending trade message to Trump

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., left, listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with lawmakers about trade policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington.

A bill from Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania (left) — meant to send a message to President Donald Trump that the Senate is monitoring his invocation of tariffs — has passed the Senate, 88-11. The House will not take up the nonbinding measure. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican leaders have tried to show a unified front on trade policy all summer.  However, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, and other senators refused to relent. And they finally got a vote on a watered-down version of their bill attempting to signal that the Senate is watching President Donald Trump’s trade war — and that lawmakers will intervene if it escalates.

The measure is important because it states that the president can’t use the national security concerns to invoke tariffs — known as Section 232 — without congressional approval. Toomey said.

The bill seeks to “put senators on record either supporting or opposing the idea, then Congress should have some say in invoking Section 232 tariffs,” Toomey said. “This would be new, and it’s very important, I think, as a first step to doing something.”

Toomey’s counterpart, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, supported the measure — even though he also supports some of Trump’s moves trying to compel China to play more fairly when it comes to trade policy. Casey said he wants Trump to have a more coherent trade policy.

“I think it could be a lot more strategic and focused, to help level the playing field and also not have too broad an approach,” Casey said.

The nonbinding bill from Toomey passed the Senate by a vote of 88-11, but House Speaker Paul Ryan said he won’t bring it up because he doesn’t want to tie Trump’s hands.

All this comes as the Trump administration readies $200 billion worth of tariffs against China.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal