The Senate Should Use Its Canceled Vacation To Assert Its Constitutional Power Against Trump

canceled vacation Shutterstock/Olesya Kuprina

Jim Huffman Dean Emeritus, Lewis & Clark Law School
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has canceled the Senate’s August vacation. Good for him. I’m confident that we constituents in the hinterlands will somehow manage without a month long (fund-raising) visit from our senators.

McConnell blamed the cancelation on “the historic obstruction by Senate Democrats of the president’s nominees, and the goal of passing appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year.” While it is true that Democrats have obstructed many Trump nominees – they are the Resistance after all, blaming them for the cancelation of their own vacation will not inspire bipartisan efforts on the appropriations bill. But several years of omnibus appropriations and threatened and temporary government shutdowns bode ill for bipartisanship on just about anything.

However, there is one important topic on which members of both parties could find common ground – international trade. Several republicans, including Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Bob Corker of Tennessee, have publically expressed their disagreement with much of what President Trump has done on trade, particularly his imposition of tariffs on our closest allies. Most democrats oppose everything Trump does on principle and many are committed free traders. Free trade senators from both parties should shelve partisanship, if only for a week or two, and use some of their newly found time to bring a halt to Trump’s irrational protectionism. Congress has the power, if they have the political will.

Trump has relied on Section 232 of the 1962 U.S. Trade Expansion Act to justify much of his assault on free trade. There will be lawsuits claiming that the president has exceeded the powers granted by Congress, but even if courts eventually rule against the president the damage will have been long since done. Congress clearly has the power to amend existing laws to make clear that they do not give the president the free hand he believes he has. And Congress clearly has the power to pass new laws to limit the president’s protectionist impulses.

By passing vague laws and failing to correct misinterpretations of existing laws, Congress has for too long allowed the executive branch to expand its powers. And the courts, relying the anti-democratic principle of deference to executive interpretations of Congressional statutes, have done nothing to restrain the growth of executive powers at the expense of Congressional authority. It is true that the president’s greatest powers are in international affairs, but it is also the case that Congress has clear constitutional authority under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution to regulate commerce with foreign nations.

Many Republicans in Congress have chosen to ignore Trump’s indiscretions and crude manner in the interest of achieving policy objectives they share with the president. But where they disagree on policy, as many do in the case of international trade, they should not be so accommodating. It is not just that Trump ignores the niceties of international diplomacy and treats our friends and allies as if decades of cooperation and compromise count for nothing. Rather it is that Trump’s protectionist policies will have disastrous effects for the American and global economies.

Senate Democrats and Republicans alike know that Trump is threatening the very foundations of American and global prosperity, not to mention the financial welfare of most of their constituents. They have the power to stop him in his tracks. Now they have an extra month at the office to actually do something. Senator Corker has introduced a bipartisan bill to require congressional approval of presidential orders under Section 232. Of course there is no guaranteeing that the House will go along if the Senate approves Corker’s bill, but at least senators from both parties will have demonstrated that they can still put the public good above partisanship while asserting a bit of the Senate’s constitutional role in governance.

Jim Huffman is dean emeritus at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.