Corker Rails at GOPs Afraid to 'Poke the Bear' by Reining in Trump's Tariff Authority

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) talks with reporters

WASHINGTON -- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) ripped his colleagues on the Senate floor today for blocking a vote on his amendment to the defense reauthorization bill that would restore congressional oversight on the president's tariff decisions in which he bypasses lawmakers by citing national security.

President Trump used the national security exception in levying 25 percent tariffs on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, causing Canada to angrily highlight how the two countries had fought shoulder-to-shoulder and the U.S. was now calling its northern neighbor a national security risk.

Trump reportedly railed at Corker in a lengthy call last week trying to convince him to back off from his tariff oversight bill, but Corker refused.

"We as senators, we're worried somehow that this guy, gosh almighty, I heard the senior senator from Texas [John Cornyn] saying the other day, 'Well, gosh, we might upset the president. We might upset the president of the United States before the midterms, so, gosh, we can't vote on the Corker amendment because we're taking -- rightly so -- the responsibility we have to deal with tariffs and revenues. We can't do that because we'd be upsetting the president, the president of the United States.'"

"I can't believe it!" Corker exclaimed. "I would bet that 95 percent of the people on this side of the aisle support, intellectually, this amendment. I would bet that. I would bet higher than 95 percent. And a lot of them would vote for it if it came to a vote. But oh no no, gosh, 'we might poke the bear' is the language I've been hearing in the hallways. We might poke the bear. The president might get upset with us as United States senators if we vote on the Corker amendment. so we're going to do everything we can to block it."

The senator added that "if people don't like it they can vote up or down."

"But no, the United States Senate right now, on June the 12th, is becoming a body where, well, we'll do what we can do but, my gosh, if the president gets upset with us then we might not be in the majority. So let's don't do anything that might upset the president," he said.

"I know that every ounce of power possible is going to be used to keep from voting on this amendment because, my gosh, the president might not like it and therefore we as senators might be offending someone by just voting on an amendment, up or down, and deciding whether we in fact want to assert some responsibility over a process of tariffing where we wake up -- ready, fire, aim... that's the process that's underway on these tariffs."

Corker's amendment has co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle, notably swing-state Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who said last week that "the decision to use these taxes should not be taken lightly or unilaterally."

"I haven't heard a single senator on our side that hasn't expressed concern to the president directly about what's happening with tariffs," Corker said. "Our farm folks are worried about NAFTA. Our auto manufacturers are worried about Canada and Mexico and what's happening in Europe. Our steel and aluminum folks are concerned. I haven't heard a person who hasn't had some degree of concern. And all my amendment would do is say, look, Mr. President, you go negotiate but when you finish come back and as senators and as House members let us vote up or down."

"I understand what's happening here. If I came up with another solution there'd be some objection ... because people are concerned on this side of the aisle," he added, stressing lawmakers are "abdicating our responsibility if we allow the president of the United States to use national security on every single tariff he's putting in place" and letting Trump "not have to think about why he's doing it, not have to justify why he's doing it."

"I am disappointed at where we are in the United States Senate today," Corker said.