A little before midnight Friday night while aboard Air Force One, President Donald Trump tweeted a response to critics regarding his handling of China and his tweet thread on Friday morning regarding an “order” to American companies to look for “alternatives” to China in terms of production. In the tweet, President Trump said, “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., try looking at the Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977. Case closed!” So Politically DC did a fact check on the presidential powers allocated within the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 (IEEPA).
The IEEPA was passed in 1977 by Congress to clarify and restrict the power of the President under the Trading With The Enemy Act of 1917, which allowed the President to oversee trade and place restrictions during times of war and times of peace with congressional approval. President Trump invoked the IEEPA in May when he used the powers to place tariffs on Mexican exports in response to the immigration crisis along the U.S.-Mexico Border. The IEEPA limits the powers of the Trading With The Enemy Act by “authorizing the president to regulate international commerce after declaring a national emergency in response to any unusual and extraordinary threat to the United States which has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States.” Specifically, it allows the President to block transactions and freeze assets related to the threat, along with the confiscation of property in the event of a physical attack on the United States.
Can the President “order” American companies to look for “alternatives” to China for production? Likely no. While the IEEPA says he can block transactions and freeze assets, it would first require the President to declare a national emergency regarding the ongoing trade war with China, which would then extend him the power to block transactions in this particular case. However, due to the broad nature and textbook usage of the declaration, it would likely be immediately challenged in federal court and an injunction would probably be implemented while the courts review it. A declaration and subsequent action under the IEEPA would be pushing presidential powers to the brink in terms of legality, Additionally, the immediate backlash would be so immediate and swift, it would be a major blowback on his 2020 re-election campaign. Overall, it isn’t a wise risk for the President and has major odds of the being legal anyways.