GOP senators want NAFTA deal from Trump by Labor Day

GOP senators want NAFTA deal from Trump by Labor Day
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Senate Republicans are pressing President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE to end talks on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by Labor Day, fearing the trade dispute will cast a shadow on the midterm elections.

GOP lawmakers told Trump during a meeting at the White House on Wednesday that they want the negotiations wrapped up by August amid growing fears that the trade fight will eventually slow the economy and lead to a backlash from voters.

“There’s a real feeling among the senators that was sent to the president that we need some sort of agreement, at least on NAFTA, by Labor Day,” Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Kavanaugh paper chase heats up MORE (R-Iowa), who attended the meeting, told The Hill.

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Trump’s decision last week to move forward with tariffs on steel and aluminum from Mexico and Canada has led the two NAFTA partners to retaliate with their own tariffs on U.S. exports, which are hitting farm states hard.

The steel and aluminum tariffs are directly linked to the NAFTA talks because Trump has sought to use them as leverage to win concessions from Canada and Mexico.

A deal on NAFTA would likely lead to an end to the tariffs on Canada and Mexico, though tariffs on imports from European nations and other countries that have also spooked lawmakers would remain in place.

In the meeting with Trump, GOP senators pressed the need to resolve the dispute for U.S. farmers.

Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenGOP senators visited Moscow on July 4, warned Russia against meddling in 2018 election: report GOP lawmakers plan official visit to Russia later this week GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border MORE (R-N.D.), who attended the meeting, said lawmakers told the president “it would be really helpful for our farmers” to wrap up trade talks in the next few months to give them “certainty.”

“We’d love to see progress,” said Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSenate adds members to pro-NATO group Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act Only all-male state Supreme Court set to get female justice MORE (R-Iowa), who also attended the meeting.

The White House won a significant victory on trade this week when it convinced Senate Republicans to withhold support from legislation limiting Trump’s power to impose tariffs that had been offered by Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Trump seeks to quell Russia furor MORE (R-Tenn.).

Before the White House intervention, the bill appeared to have growing support after weeks of frustrations with the president’s aggressive actions on trade.

But senators who spoke to The Hill said they have made it clear to the president that they do not want the fights with trading partners to go on and on.

Canada and Mexico are two of the U.S.’s three largest agricultural export markets, along with China.

Mexico announced Tuesday that it would impose a 20 percent tariff on U.S. pork exports in retaliation for tariffs Trump has levied on Mexican steel and aluminum.

Canada is threatening retaliation against U.S.-produced ketchup, cucumbers, beer kegs, refrigerators and dishwashers.

In Mississippi, Sanderson Farms, Inc., a large poultry farming company and major employer, has seen its stock plummet by 40 percent since December amid growing concerns over a trade war.

In Missouri, farmers have been hit by drops in soybean prices. Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Senate Dems lock in million in TV airtime Why does Congress keep playing political games on FBI oversight? MORE (Mo.), one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in the Senate, is using this as a cudgel against her GOP challenger, Josh Hawley.

The good news for the GOP is the strong economy, which has shown little sign of weakness from the brewing trade fights. But the GOP strategy of touting the economy may prove less effective than hoped if conditions deteriorate because of anxiety over trade.

Lael Brainard, a member of the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, warned earlier this spring that the spread of retaliatory trade measures could “dent global confidence” and “disrupt global supply chains.”

Senators met with Trump and U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerMcConnell urges GOP senators to call Trump about tariffs Companies brace for trade war MORE on Wednesday to get a better sense of the “end goals” of the administration’s trade strategy.

Trump and Lighthizer told lawmakers that they will wrap up NAFTA talks in the next few months and asked them to hold off from supporting Corker’s bill.

“The only understanding was that there’s a real feeling that sometime during the month of July there’s going to be an agreement on NAFTA,” Grassley said.

Another GOP senator who attended the meeting said Lighthizer expressed confidence that a deal with Mexico could be wrapped up during the government transition period after that country’s national election on July 1.  

Several senators who attended the meeting, including Grassley, Ernst and Hoeven, later said they do not plan to vote for Corker’s proposal if it comes up as an amendment to the pending defense authorization bill.

The president waged a lobbying offensive on Wednesday and Thursday to stop Corker’s bill, which had picked up strong bipartisan support earlier in the week.

Senate GOP leaders also weighed in against the amendment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash House passes bipartisan bill to boost business investment MORE (R-Ky.) said Wednesday it would not pass the Senate and called it an “exercise in futility.”

Other GOP leaders warned it would not be wise to pick a fight with Trump on trade months before the midterm election.

“This is not the time to pick a fight with the president in the run-up to the midterm election,” Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash McConnell: Russians are not our friends Russians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit MORE (R-Texas) told a reporter for CNN.

By Thursday, even GOP senators from farm states most impacted by Trump’s trade agenda said they likely would vote against the Corker measure.

“I do believe our president does need leverage and if he can use this as leverage, I would like him to have it,” Ernst said of tariffs. “He appreciates having that leverage and it brings to the table.”