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Corker Expresses Deep Concern About Tariff Exclusion Process

WASHINGTON – In a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today expressed deep concern about the implementation of steel and aluminum tariffs recently imposed by the president under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 and sought assurances that the Department of Commerce will make exclusion decisions free of political interference or persuasion.

Full text of the letter is below and available online here.

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I write today to express my deep concern about the implementation of steel and aluminum tariffs recently imposed by the president under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

These tariffs already are disrupting and damaging numerous American businesses and will continue to have real world effects, including the possibility that many Americans could lose their jobs as businesses face increased costs.

As you know, the Department of Commerce has established a process for U.S. businesses injured by these tariffs to request an exclusion. According to the interim rule published on March 19, an exclusion may be granted if you determine the steel or aluminum product for which the exclusion is requested is not produced in the United States in a sufficient or reasonably available amount or of a satisfactory quality. You may also grant an exclusion for “specific national security” considerations.

This exclusion process, while purporting to establish fair procedures, instead opens the door for the president, through his Commerce Secretary, to pick economic winners and losers. Not only has the administration abused the Section 232 authority delegated to it by Congress under the guise of national security, but now is in a position to grant exclusions to favored companies or withhold benefits from political opponents.

The Constitution clearly gives Congress the power to collect duties and regulate foreign commerce. By subverting Section 232 and seizing unilateral power to impose or reduce tariffs at will, the administration has upset the long-standing laws and traditions of our country and shifted the balance of power within our government.

In order to allay these concerns, I request further details regarding the process for granting exclusions and seek assurances that your department will make decisions free of political interference or persuasion.

Corker is the author of bipartisan legislation that would require the president to submit to Congress any proposal to adjust imports in the interest of national security under Section 232. For a 60-day period following submission, legislation to approve the proposal will qualify for expedited consideration, guaranteeing the opportunity for debate and a vote. The requirement would apply to all Section 232 actions moving forward, as well as those taken within the past two years. The bill has attracted a wide range of support and is cosponsored by Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). Last week, Corker filed his legislation as an amendment to the NDAA. His request for an up-or-down vote was blocked by Senate leadership.