March 23, 2019
BIRMINGHAM – U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) is calling on the U.S. Department of Commerce to release its report on whether imported automobiles and auto parts threaten the country’s national security.
Last year, at the President’s direction, the Commerce Department initiated a “national security” investigation into automotive imports under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. Under the statute, the president is authorized to impose unilateral trade restrictions (tariffs, quotas, etc.) on certain goods if Commerce finds that they “threaten to impair” national security. Commerce delivered the findings of its probe to the President on February 17th, which triggered a 90-day period for the president to review the report and decide whether or not to impose restrictions.
In response to staff briefings conducted by Commerce on the still-classified 232 report, the senators wrote to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross requesting additional information on a number of questions, including how Commerce defined “national security,” if Commerce met with any stakeholders in support of Section 232 tariffs on autos, and how Commerce accounted for downstream effects of 232 trade restrictions on auto and auto part imports.
President Trump undercut the basis for the Administration’s own 232 investigation in a Fox Business News interview that aired Friday morning by indicating that he believes imports of autos and auto parts do not pose a threat to national security. However, despite this, he expressed that he remains interested in imposing tariffs on cars from Europe and possibly other regions unless those companies invest more in the U.S.
“The President confirmed this morning that he doesn’t believe imports of autos and auto parts pose a threat to national security and that he was just attempting to use the threat of these tariffs are a bargaining chip – but even the threat of tariffs is harmful to Alabama’s auto industry,” Senator Jones said. “I hope the Administration will release this report as soon as possible and remove the threat of these tariffs so our auto workers and manufacturers can do their jobs without this hanging over their heads.”
Earlier this year, Senator Jones introduced bipartisan legislation that would reform the national security tariff process in a way that would protect American auto manufacturing jobs. He also led a bill that would delay the administration’s proposed auto tariffs by requiring the International Trade Commission to conduct a comprehensive study of the well-being, health and vitality of the U.S. auto industry before tariffs could be applied.
The letter was also signed by Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Angus King (I-Maine), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).
Full text of the letter can be found below.
March 19, 2019
The Honorable Wilbur Ross
Secretary of Commerce
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20230
Dear Secretary Ross:
We write today regarding your agency’s recently concluded Section 232 investigation into whether imported automobiles and auto parts threaten the country’s national security.
As you know, the Department of Commerce recently held bipartisan briefings on Section 232 for the staff of members of the Senate Finance Committee and House Committee on Ways and Means. We appreciate your department’s willingness to update Congress about ongoing Section 232 activity at Commerce and encourage you to offer additional briefing opportunities for members who do not serve on these committees. Based on the briefings conducted by your staff, we have several follow up questions specific to Commerce’s 232 auto investigation. While not all of us sit on the Finance Committee, we are supportive of the questions listed below and would welcome Commerce’s responses. Please provide written responses to the following questions within ten business days:
We look forward to your prompt answers to these questions. Again, we urge you to make public the contents of your agency’s investigation into auto and auto part imports, including any recommendations for 232 action that were made to the President, as well as the national security justification for such actions, as soon as possible.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.