Trump takes victory lap after NAFTA deal
But congressional approval remains uncertain, especially if Democrats take control of the House in the November midterm elections.
The president appeared to foreshadow problems in gaining approval, saying he is “not at all confident” he would get enough votes even though he said the deal should “pass easily.”
“Anything you submit to Congress is trouble, no matter what,” he said, predicting Democrats would say, “Trump likes it so we’re not going to approve it because that would be good for the Republicans.”
Speaking with reporters later Monday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer expressed confidence the deal will eventually be approved.
“I think it is going to pass and I think it is going to pass with a substantial majority,” he said.
Trump claimed the deal validates his hard-line stance on trade and suggested it could improve the United States’ leverage in contentious negotiations with China and the European Union.
“Without tariffs, we wouldn’t be talking about a deal, just for those babies out there that keep talking about tariffs,” he said.
During the year-long negotiating process, Trump was able to divide Mexico and Canada while securing concessions from both countries. But he also handed a win to Mexico City and Ottawa by backing down from his threats to pull out of NAFTA entirely or forge ahead with Mexico only.
Lighthizer also said the deal is “substantially better than TPP,” the 12-nation trade pact Trump exited after his inauguration that would have rewritten much of NAFTA.
“They might be willing to throw one of the great deals for people and the workers,” he said of Democrats. “They may be willing to do that for … political purposes. Because, frankly, you know, they’ll have 2020 in mind.”
Congressional Republicans and business groups, who have long supported NAFTA, both cheered the new trade agreement despite some having reservations about the president’s aggressive actions on trade.
“Thanks to President Trump’s vision and hard work, American families are poised to benefit from new, fair terms of trade with our neighbors in both Canada and Mexico—and from the resulting economic growth that will come with these better deals,” tweeted House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.)
Democrats and labor groups took a more cautious approach, saying they wanted to study the details to ensure the administration honored its pledge to protect American workers and enforce stringent environmental standards.
“Democrats will closely scrutinize the text of the Trump Administration’s NAFTA proposal, and look forward to further analyses and conversations with stakeholders,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
The lengthy negotiations were marked by bitter tensions between Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trump sought to turn down the temperature on their dispute during Monday’s news conference, saying the two now have a “very good relationship.”
“It got a little bit testy in the last couple of months, but that was over this agreement, and I understand that,” Trump said. “I think Justin’s a good person who’s doing a good job. He felt very committed to his people, and that’s what he did.”
The U.S. president said just last week he rejected an offer to meet with Trudeau at the United Nations General Assembly over their differences on trade, a claim that Canada denied.
The president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said “the relationships that we’ve been able to build with the countries established a lot of trust” that eventually resulted in a deal.
“The president demanded action and it was really in that spirit that we could all come together,” he said.
U.S. officials said Trump was closely involved in the negotiations, pushing back on the perception of the president as blustery and aloof.
Lighthizer said Trump would call him constantly to ask for updates on the talks and to pepper him with questions about specific provisions in the agreement.
“There is no president, I believe, that ever knew the details of an agreement like this president,” Lighthizer told reporters.
During his 78-minute news conference, Trump refused three times to answer questions from reporters who tried to ask him about the embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
But eventually he returned to the subject, spending roughly 25 minutes sparring with members of the media about an FBI probe into sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh and the judge’s drinking habits.
-Updated 2:44 p.m.
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