Flake Warns He’ll Force Tariff Vote By Blocking Trump Judicial Nominations

June 24, 2018 11:31 a.m.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said Sunday that he thought himself “and a number of senators” would be willing to block President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees in the Senate Judiciary Committee with the intent of forcing congressional action on Trump’s tariffs.

In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos Sunday, Flake said “we’re in the nascent stages of a full-scale trade war, and the President simply seems to want to escalate, and it all stems to the steel and aluminum tariffs.”

“Congress ought to stand up and say ‘No, we’re not going to do that. You can’t use Section 232 to claim that Canada is a national security threat,’” he said. “That’s not who we are.”

For two weeks, Flake has withheld his support from a nominee of the President’s for the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Britt Grant. But Senate offices on both sides of the aisle, including a spokesperson for committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, told TPM this week they were unsure of Flake’s motivations for doing so.

He told Stephanopoulos Sunday, asked if he had considered withholding support from judicial nominees “unless there’s action on issues like tariffs,” that he was considering such an action.

“I do think that unless we can actually exercise something other than just approving the President’s executive calendar, his nominees, judges, that we have no reason to be there,” Flake said. “So I think myself and a number of senators, at least a few of us, will stand up and say ‘Let’s not move any more judges until we get a vote, for example, on tariffs.’”

An unnamed source told CNN Wednesday that Flake wanted “to spur discussions on travel restrictions to Cuba as well as issues related to tariffs,” in the publication’s words.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who, like Flake, has announced he’s not seeking re-election this year, tried and failed to lead a congressional effort to rein in the President’s justification of tariffs on national security grounds. He directed his anger, with some passion, at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Republicans in the chamber who he said were wary of “pok[ing] the bear.”

Corker’s bill, which had bipartisan support, would have required congressional approval for the President to institute tariffs on national security grounds, as he has done with Canada, the European Union and other allies.

McConnell has called appointing lifetime conservatives to federal courts his “top priority.”

“There are over 1,200 executive branch appointments that come to us for confirmation, and among the most important — in fact, I would argue, the most important — confirmations we have are lifetime appointments to the judiciary,” he told NPR last month. “Obviously, this is my top priority.”

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