President Trump has embarked on an unprecedented use of national security authorities to implement his “America first” economic agenda. His use of national security authorities to impose trade restrictions has upended longstanding international agreements and stretched the definition of “national security” beyond the intent of Congress in the decades-old statutes that Trump has relied on. Congress needs to restore its historic role on trade and economic policy and by reforming national security authorities to limit their use to pursue economic policy.
In recent months, Trump has relied on Section 232, a national security provision in the 1962 Trade Expansion Act, as the basis to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, arguing that imports from allies like Canada and the European Union undercut U.S. defense readiness. Trump has directed the Commerce Department to rely on the same legal provision to prepare potential tariffs on auto imports, with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asserting that “economic security is military security.”
This view would justify implementing virtually any economic policy on national security grounds. After the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected a plan to require power companies to buy electricity from coal and nuclear plans, a document recently leaked suggests that Trump plans implement the requirement anyway under a 1950 law designed to ensure military readiness. Trump plans to use the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a law typically used to impose sanctions on rogue governments like Iran, to establish new limits on Chinese investment in the United States as part of his “get tough” approach to Chinese trade abuses.
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