Trump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field

Democrats running for president face a difficult decision on whether to embrace a revamped trade deal with Mexico and Canada that is backed by the AFL-CIO and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' Overnight Health Care: New wave of COVID-19 cases builds in US | Florida to lift all coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, bars | Trump stirs questions with 0 drug coupon plan Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds MORE (D-Calif.), but also represents a significant victory for President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE.

The deal seems likely to divide the Democratic field, with progressive Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSirota reacts to report of harassment, doxing by Harris supporters Republicans not immune to the malady that hobbled Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds On The Money: Half of states deplete funds for Trump's 0 unemployment expansion | EU appealing ruling in Apple tax case | House Democrats include more aid for airlines in coronavirus package Warren, Khanna request IG investigation into Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds MORE (D-Mass.) on one side and centrists such as former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFormer Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick Bloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida MORE, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegBillionaire who donated to Trump in 2016 donates to Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - GOP closes ranks to fill SCOTUS vacancy by November Buttigieg stands in as Pence for Harris's debate practice MORE and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight MORE (D-Minn.) on the other.

None of the top-tier Democratic presidential candidates released statements or offered public comment on the trade deal Tuesday. Text of the complex agreement replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) reflecting changes negotiated by House Democrats had yet to be released.


Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Democratic senators ask inspector general to investigate IRS use of location tracking service MORE (Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, gave Democratic senators a summary of the deal at their weekly lunch, but Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar — as well as Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe movement to reform animal agriculture has reached a tipping point Watchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing MORE (D-N.J.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Next crisis, keep people working and give them raises MORE (D-Colo.), who are also running for president — were not in attendance.

Sanders and Warren, who polls show are top contenders for the Democratic nomination, have long criticized Washington trade policies they say have hurt workers and the environment.

They are also fiercely critical of Trump, making it difficult to see how they could back a deal he has already touted as a major achievement.

“Donald Trump will be spending the next 11 months bragging about the trade agreement he ‘alone’ passed, despite the political capital Democrats sunk into making sure NAFTA 2.0 was slightly better than the deal it’s replacing,” said Yvette Simpson, the CEO of Democracy for America, a liberal advocacy group.

Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2016 was a cornerstone of his campaign and a headache for Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Trump pledges to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, designate KKK a terrorist group in pitch to Black voters MORE, who backed the deal as a member of the Obama administration but shifted her position as the Democratic presidential nominee.

Warren and Sanders, who have been to the left of Clinton on trade, seem unlikely to back this deal, said one of their Democratic colleagues.


“They haven’t been in the caucus for months, but I doubt it,” said the Democratic senator.

Sanders said a year ago that he would “strongly oppose” Trump’s new trade deal with Canada and Mexico unless strong enforcement mechanisms were added.

Warren was critical of the text of the original deal Trump negotiated with Mexico and Canada to replace NAFTA.

“Trump’s deal won’t stop the serious and ongoing harm NAFTA causes for American workers.” she said last year. “It won’t stop outsourcing, it won’t raise wages and it won’t create jobs. It’s NAFTA 2.0.”

In July, Warren released a plan for how she would overhaul future trade negotiations. She proposed that negotiators be required to disclose drafts to the public and pledged to appoint more representatives from labor, environmental and consumer groups on advisory committees.

It’s possible Warren could shift her position given the changes Pelosi and House Democrats won on the deal, including stronger labor and environmental provisions. The deal includes the virtual elimination of the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, which gives investors the right to sue a host country for discriminatory practices such as environmental regulations that threaten to reduce profits.

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said, “the new agreement still contains things from the original NAFTA that are very problematic,” citing limits on food-safety and environmental regulation.

“The issue I think for a lot of progressives is going to be whether or not they think the agreement can actually make a difference in trying to reduce NAFTA’s ongoing damage,” she said. “The question for a lot of organizations is are the improvements that were made sufficient to make a difference in NAFTA’s general trend of race to the bottom,” she added. 

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownMnuchin says he and Pelosi have agreed to restart coronavirus stimulus talks Harris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle Remote work poses state tax challenges MORE (D-Ohio), a leading advocate for workers and organized labor whose influence on trade will be felt within the Democratic caucus and presidential field, offered measured, but favorable, comments Tuesday.

“I like what I’ve heard so far,” he said, noting the support offered by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“I’ve been talking to Trumka once or twice or three times a week for months on this and working to get this language,” he said. “I like what Trumka said.”

But a Senate Democratic aide predicted Sanders and Warren would feel compelled to oppose the renegotiated version of NAFTA despite its improvements.


“Bernie and Elizabeth I think have to come out strongly opposing it, but that’s going to be tough for them because there are some things in there that we’re really happy with,” the aide said.

“You can look at this with two different sets of messages. One set of messages is this is a terrible deal made tolerable by what Nancy Pelosi was able to get in there,” the source added. “You can also message it another way, which is that no trade deal goes unpunished and this is NAFTA 2.0 and anybody who seriously cares about labor and environmental standards” won’t support it.

Biden has also criticized Trump on trade, but he supported NAFTA in the early 1990s. Like Sanders and Warren, he has cast himself as an antagonist to Trump, but he has also sought to portray himself as someone who would be willing to work with Republicans to get things done in Washington.

That could give Biden a reason to back the newly crafted deal, which Pelosi is championing as a framework for future trade agreements. Pelosi is also stressing the ability of her caucus to work with Trump on legislation even as it moves to impeach him.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Pence seeks to boost Daines in critical Montana Senate race This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans MORE (D-Mont.), whose home state voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, said he was relieved by the display of bipartisanship.

“I think it’s going to give some certainty. If there’s anything this administration has done is provide a lot of uncertainty when it comes to trade, so I welcome an agreement. The devil is always in the details,” he said. “I think we need to get more agreements done, not fewer.” 

If Biden does support the deal, he may come under attack from rivals.

At a Democratic debate in September, Sanders sought to draw a sharp contrast between himself and Biden on NAFTA, which Sanders opposed in the early 1990s.