Toomey wins symbolic vote

Political Notebook

Senate Republicans — even those who occasionally quibble with President Donald Trump — have rarely challenged the president’s policies as a group.

But it seems Trump’s overseas trade wars are too much for Republicans, led by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to stomach.

Alongside colleagues Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Toomey spearheaded last week’s passage of a nonbinding bill pushing for Congress to oversee Trump’s tariffs on foreign imports.

The 88-11 vote doesn’t have any legal power and might not dominate news cycles, but it represents a rare break with the president on an issue that’s already affecting Pennsylvania industries.

“These taxes are hurting workers, consumers and companies in Pennsylvania and across the country,” Toomey said, referring to enacted and threatened tariffs against China, the European Union and other nations. “It’s time for Congress to reassert its constitutional responsibility on trade and today’s bipartisan vote shows that there is a way forward to accomplish this.”

The multifaceted trade war has hit industries from steel processing to pork farming, with charges on imported steel and retaliatory tariffs from China impacting manufacturers and farmers in Pennsylvania.

Trump has managed to avoid the need for congressional backing on his tariffs, arguing they fall under his authority as national security matters. Those in Congress pushing for free trade are working to limit his authority and take their own power over the decisions.

“The administration is wrong to use ‘national security’ as a pretext to impose taxes on steel and aluminum from our closest allies,” Toomey said.

Even if the vote carried the power of law, there’s little hope it would pass. The House is unlikely to take such a bill up, and it’s hard to imagine Trump supporting measures that would tie his own hands. But the point, Toomey said, is to tally those who stand for congressional oversight.

GOP hammers socialist claims

With the congressional campaign season underway, state Republicans are reviving a scary term to drive out their base: socialism.

In just a few days, the Pennsylvania GOP has issued multiple press releases connecting election opponents to socialists and demanding Democratic candidates embrace or disavow the ideology.

The question, however, is whether the claims will ring hollow after years using the term — and whether it remains as potent an allegation as it once was.

On Wednesday, the party announced it had sent questionnaires to every Democrat running for Congress in Pennsylvania. Alongside questions regarding House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., was a notable addition: “Do you support the agenda of the Democratic Socialists of America?”

The fast-growing leftist group, which unseated two Pittsburgh-area Democratic incumbents in this year’s primary and just knocked off a prominent Democratic congressman in New York, has stirred state Republicans to action.

“With a Democratic Party increasingly moving to the left, Pennsylvanians deserve to know where their candidates stand on these issues,” GOP Chairman Val DiGiorgio said in a written statement. “The more that Pennsylvania Democrats remain silent about a radical socialist agenda that disrespects taxpayer dollars and incites violence, the more they are complicit in it.”

In another release last week, the party hit at Democratic lieutenant governor candidate John Fetterman for campaigning alongside “avowed socialist” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., using the term twice in a six-sentence news release.

Will the word drive voters away? Sanders — who is indeed an “avowed socialist” — won 43 percent of Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary vote in 2016, including most of central Pennsylvania.

The prospect of openly anticapitalist Democratic candidates could excite Republican voters to turn out in response. But GOP officials and hopefuls have long made similar accusations against even moderate Democrats, possibly rendering the claim less effective.

In spring, then-Republican gubernatorial hopeful Paul Mango called millionaire Gov. Tom Wolf a “progressive socialist;” GOP congressmen in recent years have called ex-President Barack Obama a “socialist dictator” and claimed 78 congressional Democrats are Communist Party members.

Still, the state party shows no signs of slowing the attack. Last week on Twitter, the party addressed “the dangerous rise of socialism” and claimed the new Democratic platform includes “state-owned enterprises and worker-owned cooperatives.”

Casey vote a factor in race

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., has maintained his opposition to a Trump-appointed Supreme Court judge this year, as outside groups dedicated to a conservative court take an interest in his re-election fight.

Casey announced he would oppose a Trump pick even before the president named Judge Brett Kavanaugh as his nominee. The situation appears as a reversal of Republicans’ hard opposition to an Obama nomination in 2016, but with the Democrats today holding less power over the choice.

Now, Republicans and allied groups are turning their attention to Casey’s “no” vote. Backing challenger Lou Barletta, conservative committees like the Senate Leadership Fund threatened last week to hold Democratic senators accountable for their refusal, PennLive reported.

Ryan Brown can be emailed at