- A year ago, the Trump administration reached a deal with Mexico and Canada to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement, adding new rules aiming to boost manufacturing in the United States and raise wages for auto workers.
- The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or known as the USMCA, hasn’t taken effect yet as it must be approved by the Democratic-led House and GOP-controlled Senate.
- Now Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are within striking distance of a deal with President Trump, which would hand him a major victory on a top trade priority going into the 2020 election amid a divisive impeachment inquiry.
- And that’s the conundrum Democrats face, particularly centrist ones.
- They could vote for an agreement giving Trump a legislative achievement that he’ll use to try and unseat them, or block a deal advancing liberal goals and undercut their image as dealmakers breaking through the political gridlock.
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A year ago, the Trump administration reached a deal with Mexico and Canada to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement, adding new rules aiming to boost manufacturing in the United States and raise wages for auto workers.
The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement – also known as the USMCA – hasn’t taken effect yet as it must be approved by the Democratic-led House and GOP-controlled Senate. Neither have brought it to a vote, though it would be expected to pass the upper chamber.
Now, Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are reportedly within striking distance of a deal with President Trump, which would hand him a major victory on a top trade priority going into the 2020 election amid a divisive impeachment inquiry.
And that’s the difficult conundrum Democrats face, particularly centrist ones. They could vote for an agreement giving Trump a legislative achievement that he’ll use to try and unseat them, or block a deal advancing liberal goals and undercut their image as dealmakers breaking through the political gridlock.
“Taken as a whole, it looks more like an agreement that would have been negotiated under the Obama administration,” Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio and a supporter of the pact, recently told The New York Times. “There are some aspects to it that Democrats have been calling for, for decades.”
The new accord would realign supply chains for cars in North America, as it mandates that 40 per cent of each vehicle be produced by workers making at least $US16 an hour, which could slow the flow of jobs to Mexico.
It also opens up new markets for American dairy farmers and rolls back an arbitration system for corporations that liberals like Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren criticised as a pathway out of the American legal system.
A vote on the deal with two of the nation’s largest trading partners could be in the cards by the end of December, The Washington Post recently reported.
Democrats and the GOP want the deal passed for different reasons
Both Democrats and Republicans are seeking to draw advantages from the stalled deal. As the president’s trade war with China drags on with no immediate end in sight, Republicans want the USMCA in place to quell concerns about the economy heading into next year and bolster business investment, Politico reported.
Democrats, on the other hand, under Pelosi are trying to show they can carry out impeachment proceedings and govern at the same time.
Trump, though, has repeatedly pummelled them as “Do Nothing Democrats” laser-focused on removing him from office instead of working with Republicans to pass bills in healthcare, guns, and trade.
On November 24, Trump railed against them and characterised legislation like the USMCA as “dead in the water” as a result of impeachment.
“Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, AOC and the rest of the Democrats are not getting important legislation done, hence, the Do Nothing Democrats,” he tweeted. “USMCA, National Defence Authorization Act, Gun Safety, Prescription Drug Prices, & Infrastructure are dead in the water because of the Dems!”
The president’s barrage of attacks have put some Democrats on the defensive, and there is appetite among them to demonstrate they can still deliver for their constituents.
Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, Democrat of Texas, told The Times in early October that despite the impeachment battle, voters still want to see lawmakers reaching across the aisle to pass legislation improving their lives.
“People really want to know about how we’re working together and where there’s bipartisan agreement,” she said. “They want to know that we’re trying to solve real problems.”
There is indeed support to bring the USMCA to a vote on the Democratic side.
Back in July, Axios reported that 14 House Democrats sent Pelosi a letter urging her to bring the USMCA to a floor vote before the end of the year. A dozen of them won their seats in competitive GOP-held districts and formed a critical part of the Democrats’ takeover of the House in the 2018 midterm elections. Fletcher was among them.
Still, it remains unknown to what extent a USMCA trade deal could factor in the 2020 election if passed, given the impeachment battle roiling the nation’s capital and deepening polarization. Other issues like healthcare have proved to be a bigger issue for voters instead of trade.
The agreement’s effects as it stands are likely to be modest.A study last year from the US International Trade Commission, an independent federal agency, found the USMCA’s impact on the American economy would be “moderate” with a 0.35% growth in GDP and 176,000 jobs created over six years.
There’s also opposition from progressives, which could hinder the deal’s odds of a smooth passage through the House. They argue the USMCA doesn’t do enough to strengthen labour and environmental protections and could make it harder to cut the high cost of prescription drugs, another Democratic priority.
The USMCA presents a tricky situation for Democrats as they seek to expand their control of the House in the 2020 election. How they manoeuvre through the final round of negotiations with the Trump administration and a possible vote will determine whether the deal ultimately gives both sides an achievement to campaign on.
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