Trump Still Arguing He Has Authority To Order Companies Out Of China

President Donald Trump is basing his arguments on a 1977 law that he says gives him the authority to order companies to leave China and prevent them from doing business with the rival country. But does he really?

The trade war between the United States and China is still going strong, although many signs point to the media’s hype over the confrontation may be a tad overstated (and not doing serious economic damage to either country, but we won’t know for sure for some time). China recently unloaded another layer of tariffs on nearly $75 billion in United States products. The escalations don’t seem any closer to calming down.

Trump tweeted: “Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China including bringing …your companies HOME and making your products in the USA.”

Naturally, Trump’s political opponents — and just about everyone else — jumped at the opportunity to remind him that he completely lacks the authority to make such an order. He’s been justifying the argument ever since.

Before heading to the G7 summit in France, he said to reporters: “I have the absolute right to do that, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Why does he think he has the right?

Apparently the best he’s come up with is the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). He tweeted: “For all of the Fake News Reporters that don’t have a clue as to what the law is relative to Presidential powers, China, etc., trying looking at the Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977. Case closed!”

The law was drafted in the somewhat tumultuous era following the Watergate scandal and war in Vietnam, and provide a president with the ability to declare a national emergency before choosing to regulate economic transactions due to threats to national security. 

Few people seem to understand how this gives the president the authority to do what he wants to do (because it doesn’t), especially since he hasn’t declared a national emergency. Even if he were to do so, he would still be forced to report his desired actions before Congress, and then expressly ask permission to implement them. It seems unlikely that even a Republican-controlled Congress would authorize the president to “order” American companies operating in China to leave the country.

The IEEPA has been used many times before, such as when President Carter used it to impose trade sanctions against Iran in response to the hostage crisis of 1979. 

Professor Stephen Vladeck of the University of Texas tweeted: “One of the enduring phenomena of the Trump era is going to be the list of statutes that give far too much power to the President, but that many didn’t used to worry about — assuming there’d be political safeguards. Today’s entrant: The International Emergency Economic Powers Act.”