The Senate dealt an overwhelming bipartisan rebuke to President Trump’s trade policy Wednesday, approving a symbolic measure for Congress to reassert its authority on tariffs.
On a test vote, senators approved the nonbinding trade resolution by a lopsided margin of 88 to 11, as an amendment to a motion on a larger spending package for flood insurance. All 11 “no” votes were Republicans; 39 Republicans voted for the measure.
The trade measure calls for lawmakers to have a greater role when the president invokes a national security emergency to impose tariffs, as Mr. Trump has done in recent months with levies on steel and aluminum imports.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, called the resolution “a baby step” toward Congress reasserting its rightful authority on trade issues. He sponsored the measure with Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, who called it “a vote to move in the direction of restoring to Congress our constitutional authority.”
Mr. Toomey said he hopes ultimately Congress will consider the administration’s “misuse” of a section of trade law “which is applying inappropriate tariffs on steel and aluminum from our allies and close friends.”
Another sponsor, Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said lawmakers are headed toward actual legislation that would require congressional oversight of tariff decisions.
“This is a rebuke of the president’s abuse of trade authority,” Mr. Flake said of the vote. “We have to rein in an abuse of presidential authority and to restore Congress’ constitutional authority in this regard.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said the administration’s tariffs are “like shooting ourselves in both feet” because they raise prices for consumers while reducing revenues, profits, wages and jobs.
“These tariffs are a big mistake,” Mr. Alexander said. “They will take us in the wrong direction. I have not been successful in talking to the president about this, but I intend to keep trying.”
Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who supports the administration’s tariffs, said he was voting in favor of the measure because Congress should have a greater say on trade in general.
“It’s not a vote to rescind steel tariffs,” Mr. Brown said.
Although the resolution doesn’t address specific tariffs, the move came a day after the administration announced that it is preparing to impose a 10-percent tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods by the end of August.
Washington and Beijing are locked in an escalating tariff war, while Mr. Trump is also embroiled in tariff feuds with the European Union, Canada and Mexico.
Mr. Trump, who is attending a NATO summit in Belgium, said in a tweet earlier Wednesday that Americans should be patient with his tariff actions. He said he is trying to help U.S. farmers get a better deal.
“Other countries’ trade barriers and tariffs have been destroying their businesses,” the president tweeted. “I will open things up, better than ever before, but it can’t go too quickly. I am fighting for a level playing field for our farmers, and will win!”