Donald Trump races to seal Nafta revamp deal with Congress
Donald Trump is facing a high-stakes political showdown in Congress over the approval of the USMCA trade pact with Canada and Mexico, as senior administration officials and Republican lawmakers push for a quick vote on the deal in the face of scepticism from many Democrats.The stand-off over USMCA — which was struck last year as a replacement for the Clinton-era Nafta deal — has cast a pall over Mr Trump’s trade agenda this year amid the tariff war with China and threatens to deprive the US president of a key legislative victory heading into his re-election campaign. It has also added to uncertainty over the fate of trade in North America, where supply chains have become increasingly intertwined as billions of dollars worth of goods cross the northern and southern US border each year.In recent week, Trump officials and their allies on Capitol Hill have been clamouring for Democrats to embrace the agreement quickly, acknowledging that there is a short window to secure passage before the 2020 presidential race kicks in and complicates the political dynamic. Some are optimistic.“I don’t know when it’s going to come up but I feel very positive about it,” Chuck Grassley, the veteran Republican senator from Iowa who chairs the finance committee in the upper chamber of Congress, told the Financial Times. “It ought to have broad bipartisan support.”.Many Democrats do not share that rosy assessment. They have been demanding changes to the deal’s provisions on labour and environmental standards, drug prices and enforcement, in discussions with Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative, over the summer. But they still have no certainty that their concerns will be addressed.“We all believe Nafta must be replaced, but USMCA is not there yet. We need trade deals that help hardworking men and women. Rushing a trade deal through will not level the playing field,” Debbie Dingell, a Democratic lawmaker from Michigan, warned on Twitter on Tuesday.Senior Democrats have not closed the door to approving the deal, but have said it was up to the White House to come up with solutions to clinch their support. On Wednesday Mr Lighthizer sent a letter to Democratic lawmakers in response to their requests, but the contents were not disclosed. A spokeswoman for Richard Neal, the chairman of the Ways and Means committee in the House of Representatives, which oversees trade, said they were reviewing the counterproposal.
“If they are serious, this could have legs. If they want to nickel-and-dime us, then it’s going to take longer,” one Democratic aide in Congress said before the letter was sent.Mr Lighthizer has been reluctant to talk about the state of the USMCA talks recently in public, but other members of Mr Trump’s team — from Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, to Peter Navarro, the White House manufacturing tsar, to Mike Pence, the vice-president — have, with increasing fervour, been beating the drum in favour of the deal, placing it at the top of their agenda this week as Congress returned from recess. “Ambassador Lighthizer is working very closely with the House. I’ve spoken to the Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] about this several times. And we look forward to working with her this month, hopefully to get to the point where they are comfortable in bringing this to the floor because I think if they do bring it to the floor it has the votes to pass,” Mr Mnuchin told Fox Business Network television.Proponents of the deal argue that Ms Pelosi will ultimately assent because the Democratic majority in the House depends on more conservative members of her party, in swing districts, where USMCA is more popular. “The USMCA is both good policy and good politics. Speaker Pelosi is an adept political operator and understands that her most vulnerable members need a bipartisan vote that is good for the economy,” said Phil Cox, a Republican strategist and the co-chair of Trade Works for America, a business coalition pushing for passage of the deal. Mr Grassley added: “She’d have to be asking this question: would Democrats want to deny their constituents a better deal just to hurt Trump?”
Tuesday, 3 September, 2019
But the largest US largest trade union federation, the AFL-CIO, which is very influential in Democratic politics, continues to have doubts about the deal, even after its president, Richard Trumka, travelled to Mexico to get assurances that the country would follow through on changes to its labour practices. As the stand-off dragged on over the summer, some Democrats worried that the White House was less interested in seeing congressional approval of the deal than using the protracted fight to blame Democrats for the slowing economy. There have been misgivings on the other side as well, with members of the Trump administration and congressional Republicans worried that, given how unpopular Mr Trump is among Democrats, Ms Pelosi will never want to give the president any sort of victory heading into 2020.Few on Capitol Hill will venture a prediction on whether USMCA will pass this year, and not all business lobbyists are bullish on its prospects. “The eye of the needle is getting smaller and smaller, and the camel that has to pass through it is getting bigger and bigger,” said one trade lobbyist.