In recent days, the Biden administration released a report documenting findings of the Trump administration regarding whether to impose steep tariffs on imported cars. In favor of the tariffs, the document claimed that “the serious effects resulting from the… displacement of production in the U.S., is causing a weakening of our internal economy that may impair the national security.”
The Trump team — in particular, then-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — had concluded that automotive imports posed a threat to national security to the point of allowing the president to impose tariffs on vehicles and parts without Congressional approval. Presidents, generally speaking, have the authority to impose import taxes without Congressional approval if the targeted transactions somehow threaten national security. Following the release of the Trump administration’s formal findings, Republican Senator Pat Toomey (Pa.) derided the Trump team’s conclusion that automotive tariffs posed a national security threat and criticized the Trump administration for refusing to release their findings.
Ross had recommended that, absent a trade deal with given countries, Trump impose import taxes of up to 25 or 35 percent on certain vehicles and parts. Discussing the report documenting the Trump administration’s conclusions on this matter, Toomey commented as follows:
‘A quick glance confirms what we expected. The justification for these tariffs was so entirely unfounded that even the authors were too embarrassed to let it see the light of day.’
The Trump administration never ended up imposing the proposed auto tariffs in question, although import taxes on other items, like steel and aluminum, were put in place. Trump repeatedly misrepresented the way that tariffs work. In the case of tariffs on Chinese goods, he characterized money that authorities brought in because of the tariffs as coming from China — but in reality, it’s (generally speaking) American companies doing the importing who have to pay the tariffs. In practice, Trump’s tariffs constituted a tax on Americans.
Referring to the portion of federal law (Section 232) that provides presidents with the authority to impose national security-oriented tariffs without Congressional approval, Toomey added as follows:
‘The Commerce Department has a statutory obligation to Congress, and to the American people, to release all of their Section 232 reports. It was wholly unacceptable that the previous administration defied federal law and refused to release this report.’
Toomey, who is not running for re-election, also “commended current Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and the Biden administration for making the report public,” POLITICO says. Notably, he’s not the only Republican Senator to recently come out against trade policies of the Trump administration. Recently, seven GOP Senators signed a letter urging the Biden administration to address the Trump administration’s tariffs, writing that authorities should “stop those actions that are damaging immediately.” The Biden administration has not immediately drawn the so-called “trade war” that Trump started to a close, and the GOP Senators pushing for its end said that it “is necessary for [Biden’s] administration to evaluate the tariff experiences of the last three years and determine the policies that have worked and those that have not,” making subsequent policy adjustments accordingly.