McConnell Admits U.S. May Be in 'Early Stages' of Trade War

But will Congress act to rein in Trump?



The United States may be in the "early stages" of a trade war, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) said Friday.

Speaking to reporters in Kentucky, McConnell bemoaned the fact that there are no winners in a trade war. "As you all know, I've said before, I'm concerned about getting into a trade war and it seems like…we may actually be in the early stages of it," McConnell said, according to The Hill. "Nobody wins a trade war, and so it would be good if it ended soon."

McConnel's remarks follow a week of tit-for-tat tariffs between the U.S. and China. Last Friday, the Trump administration slapped tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods, prompting the Chinese to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. produce, meat, and cars. On Tuesday, the Trump administration upped the ante by announcing additional tariffs of 10 percent on $200 billion of Chinese imports.

The Kentucky Republican has repeatedly expressed concern that these tariffs will harm the U.S. economy. Yet, neither McConnell nor a Republican-controlled Congress have done much to rein in Trump's ability to impose tariffs.

On Wednesday, 88 senators voted in favor of a measure limiting the president's power to impose tariffs for national security reasons. However the nonbinding measure, co-sponsored by Sens. Bob Corker (R–Tenn.), Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.), and Pat Toomey (R–Pa.), was mostly seen as a symbolic gesture.

Neverthless, the Senate's vote, and now McConnell's comments, could be a sign of a growing Republican willingness to stand up to Trump, as Reason's Eric Boehm noted on Wednesday:

The nonbinding vote is, for now, mostly meaningless. Still, the bipartisan support for limiting the president's ability to abuse the Section 232 tariff authority is the first sign that Republicans in Congress might be willing to stand up to Trump as he continues escalating an unnecessary trade war.

If congressional Republicans really want to rein in Trump on tariffs, however, they'll need meaningful legislation to pass with a two-thirds majority in order to override a presidential veto. Though 88 senators approved the nonbinding measure, it will be much harder to garner that kind of support for binding legislation.

Why is that? According to Axios' Caitlin Owens, many Republicans don't want to "cross" Trump "until their voters feel the pain" from the tariffs. "There's a lot of confidence in the president," says Rep. Tom Cole (R–Okla.). "But in this situation, most Republicans are classic free traders and a lot of them represent areas where this is dangerous."

Still, some GOP lawmakers want to act, regardless of the political repercussions. "We got 88 votes yesterday on the Corker amendment," Sen. Lamar Aleander (R–Tenn.) told Axios on Thursday. "Several of us are thinking of other legislation actions we could take. And we hope the president will change his mind."