The Senate on Wednesday voted to reinstate tariffs on Chinese solar panels sold out of Southeast Asia, a measure President Joe Biden has pledged to veto due to the green energy industry's reliance on Chinese goods.
Nine Democrats joined 47 Republicans in support of Florida Republican senator Rick Scott's resolution, which reverses a Biden executive order that suspended tariffs on Chinese solar products imported from Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia. Under the resolution, Congress can overturn executive branch actions with a simple majority, a method that circumvents the Senate's 60-vote filibuster rule.
The vote comes as a major blow to Biden, who has vocally opposed the measure by stressing the solar industry's need to import Chinese panels. China controls more than 80 percent of the world's solar panel production, leaving the industry reliant on Chinese goods as it rushes to fulfill increased demand spurred by Biden's pricey green energy subsidies. That reliance, the White House said last month, means Chinese solar panel tariffs would "create deep uncertainty for jobs and investments in the solar supply chain."
While Scott's resolution received some Democratic support—Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (Wisc.), and Gary Peters (Mich.) were among the nine Democrats who backed it—the overwhelming majority of Senate Democrats voted to uphold Biden's tariff suspension. Nevada Democratic senator Jacky Rosen, who is up for reelection in 2024, led the charge against the tariff resolution, which she called a "job killer" that would "stall the American solar industry."
Rosen's advocacy against the measure comes months after the Democrat accepted $9,000 in campaign cash from the Solar Energy Industries Association, which counts a number of top Chinese solar manufacturers as members. Without those manufacturers, the United States "cannot produce enough solar panels and cells to meet demand," the association acknowledged in a Friday statement.
China has for years provided illegal subsidies to its solar energy companies, prompting the United States to begin imposing tariffs on Chinese solar panels in 2012. China quickly got around those tariffs by shifting their operations elsewhere—first to Taiwan and then to Southeast Asia. Biden's Commerce Department in December found that four of China's top solar panel manufacturers illegally dodged U.S. tariffs through their work in the region, but the companies remained exempt from crippling sanctions thanks to Biden's executive order.
"The Chinese Communist Party's unfair trade practices cannot go unchecked, including illegal circumvention of U.S. trade law," Missouri Republican congressman Jason Smith said last week after the tariff resolution passed the House. "By shipping Chinese solar products through Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, China has undercut U.S. workers and manufacturers."
The president's Chinese solar tariff suspension is expected to remain in place for the time being—the White House on April 24 said Biden would veto the resolution reversing the suspension, a position that has not changed. Bipartisan support for the tariffs, however, means that Chinese solar companies aren't in the clear just yet.
While Scott's resolution did not receive enough support to make up a veto-proof majority, the solar industry has expressed concern that the bipartisan appetite for Chinese solar tariffs could lead to additional bills. Republicans could also introduce tariffs as an amendment to a bill that Biden does support, one House Democratic aide warned in an interview with the Washington Post.
"They're going to find every possible way to make us take hard votes on that," the aide said.