U.S. Senate backs non-binding tariff measure, minor snub of Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate made a minor effort to push back against President Donald Trump’s trade policies on Wednesday by backing a non-binding motion to give Congress a role in his decisions to impose tariffs for national security reasons.

The vote was 88-11 in favor of the measure, part of an effort led by some of Trump’s fellow Republicans who support free trade to resist the president’s escalating effort to address what he sees as unfair foreign trade.

They worry that trade disputes with China, as well as with allies like western European nations and Canada, could damage the U.S. economy by harming U.S. employers and raising prices for consumers.

The vote came as China accused the United States of bullying and warned it would hit back after the Trump administration raised the stakes in a trade dispute by threatening 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods.

However, the Senate’s Republican leaders have not yet allowed a binding vote on legislation introduced in June to require congressional approval of any tariffs imposed for national security reasons.

Republicans, who have majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives, have backed almost all of Trump’s initiatives since he became president in January 2017.

Some lawmakers have spoken out against his policies on trade and in other areas but they have not used tactics such as withholding votes for his nominees as a way of influencing the White House.

The measure’s main sponsors - Republican Senators Bob Corker, Jeff Flake and Pat Toomey - said they considered Wednesday’s action a “test vote” on the issue.

Corker acknowledged in remarks in the Senate that the vote was a “baby step” but said he would continue to push for a binding vote and was “hopeful” that one would be scheduled in the near future.

The non-binding measure approved on Wednesday was a “motion to instruct” lawmakers finalizing a water and energy spending bill to ensure that Congress plays a role in implementing such tariffs.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Dan Grebler and Bill Trott