Heads are spinning: Democrats endorse new NAFTA even as they move to impeach Trump
House Democrats have struck a deal with the Trump administration on a modified version of the North American free trade pact after months of wrangling in Washington.
The agreement comes after a recent rush of last minute talks between Ottawa, Mexico City and Washington as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer pushes to get the trilateral trade deal ratified in his country. The agreement still requires the approval of the Republican controlled U.S. Senate. It also must be ratified in Canada.
But the endorsement of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who praised the altered pact as “infinitely better” than the original deal signed by leaders of all three countries in Buenos Aires last fall — provides a crucial boost to efforts to push the deal over the finish line.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has arrived in Mexico City where she is slated to appear at a signing ceremony with American and Mexican counterparts 1 p.m. ET. Freeland will hold a separate press conference at the Canadian embassy in Mexico City at 5:30 p.m. ET.
“This is a day we’ve all been working to and working for on the path to yes,” said Pelosi.
In an extraordinary morning in Washington, Pelosi and Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the powerful U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee announced the bipartisan trade agreement in the same hour the Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against Trump.
This is a day we’ve all been working to and working for on the path to yes
The deal looks to be headed for a vote in Congress next week, the same period during which the House is slated to vote on the impeachment articles, said international trade lawyer Dan Uzcjo, who expects the Senate to vote on it in the New Year.
“Next we week we could impeach a president and pass a trade deal that actually has the support of unions,” he said. “So heads are spinning.”
Indeed, the deal won a rare endorsement from Richard Trumka, president of the powerful AFL-CIO union. That stamp of approval is in itself historic, given longstanding union wariness of trade deals they view as failing to deliver on their promise of labour reform, said Kimberly Ann Elliott, a Washington trade policy analyst.
“The AFL has never endorsed a trade agreement,” she said. “I did not think they would come out and do it with this. That is remarkable.”
A ratified NAFTA would secure a major legislative victory for Trump going into an election year. But Democrats have also been anxious to display their ability to legislate at the same time that they are pursuing Trump’s removal from office.
Pelosi insisted the timing of the deal was driven by the need to make decisions before the house ended its session for the year and a desire by Lighthizer to lock down newly agreed changes with Mexico and Canada.
“He wanted to get this signed by the Mexicans and the Canadians,” she said. “When you’re dealing with something like this it could be perishable. So he wanted to close while we were all in agreement.”
Pelosi took pains to emphasize her party’s role in reshaping the deal, insisting Democrats would “never” have accepted the agreement as it was originally forged last fall.
The question now is how many votes will Lighthizer lose on the Republican side?They may not like all these changes
Kimberly Ann Elliott, Washington trade policy analyst
“We came a long way from what he originally proposed,” she said. “We were not going to accept the original deal. That’s what it came down to. It takes a while especially when you’re starting with a non-starter and that’s what the Trump administration gave us, a non-starter.”
Though details of the agreement will not be clear until a full implementation bill is supplied to Congress, the Democrats indicated that it satisfies their key concerns including on pharmaceutical provisions and the enforcement of Mexican labour reforms — long an irritant for Democrats and the labour movement.
“The question now is how many votes will Lighthizer lose on the Republican side?” Elliott said. “They may not like all these changes.”