Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: A meek and useless Congress


Across the board, the reaction from Republicans has been harsh, complete with dire predictions of its consequence:

“This is a big mistake,” says U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. “These tariffs will raise prices and destroy manufacturing jobs, especially auto jobs, which are one-third of all Tennessee manufacturing jobs.”

"This is dumb," says Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska. "We've been down this road before—blanket protectionism is a big part of why America had a Great Depression."

“The Trump administration’s trade policy is a disaster,” a senior Republican aide told Politico. “Whacking critical allies with massive steel and aluminum tariffs under the bogus pretense of a national security threat is not in the best interest of the United States, our consumers or our businesses.”

"This action puts American workers and families at risk, whose jobs depend on fairly traded products from these important trading partners,” says U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. “It hurts our efforts to create good-paying U.S. jobs by selling more 'Made in America' products to customers in these countries.”

So if this is a “disaster,” “a big mistake,” a possible prelude to another “Great Depression,” how do these Republicans intend to respond to protect the country? What are they going to do to carry out their duty to act as a check and balance on a chief executive whom they clearly believe is steering the country in a dangerous direction?

The answer is: Not a damn thing.

Clearly, they have the authority to intervene.  The Constitution gives Congress, not the president, “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises.” If Trump has the authority to unilaterally impose these tariffs without congressional oversight, it is only because previous Congresses delegated that power to previous presidents, trusting that they would be responsible and sane in how they used that authority. If you do not believe that the current president is using it in that fashion, then that delegation of power should be withdrawn.

If equipped with the requisite guts and leadership, this Republican Congress could do more than just whine; it could begin to restrict Trump’s power in this field and set boundaries on his behavior. They wouldn’t even have to pass legislation, which would risk a presidential veto. By introducing legislation and holding committee hearings, Congress could communicate to both Trump and to our trading partners that it recognizes the dangers of an international trade war and will demand a voice if necessary to prevent it.

But again, even in the face of such dire concerns, they will not act.  As John Boehner acknowledged this week, the Republican Party no longer really exists; this is now the party of Trump. Within hours, the accuracy of that description was highlighted by the feckless reaction of Boehner’s successor as speaker.

“I disagree with this decision,” Paul Ryan said in a press release. “There are better ways to help American workers and consumers. I intend to keep working with the president on those better options.”

Great, you do that. Meanwhile, if the American people want a Congress able and willing to check the excesses of this president, they better elect a new one come November. This one clearly isn’t up to the job.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.