Hopes dim for passage of Trump trade deal

House Democrats say there's little to no chance that Congress will take up President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE's replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) before the end of summer. 

With only three more weeks scheduled to be in session before the August recess, House Democrats from across the spectrum are demanding that the trade pact with Mexico and Canada be renegotiated, citing concerns with the implications for labor and environmental standards as well as drug prices. 

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The Trump administration has been pushing for approval of the deal, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), by August due to concerns that the 2020 presidential campaign will make it politically impossible to complete the deal this fall. Congress will also have to deal with avoiding a government shutdown and debt default after returning to Washington on Sept. 9 from the monthlong summer recess.

But House Democrats say that the idea of getting the trade deal done by the end of the summer session is all but out of reach.

“I don't see how that happens in three weeks,” said Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerHillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack Progressives oppose spending stopgap measure over surveillance authority extension House to hold markup Wednesday on marijuana decriminalization bill MORE (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee.

As for the Trump administration’s push to get the trade pact through Congress by August, “That's their problem. We've told them what our interests are,” Blumenauer said.

House Democrats insist that they do want to get the USMCA done, but aren't holding themselves to a deadline.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump Democrats open door to repealing ObamaCare tax in spending talks Sunday talk shows: Lawmakers gear up ahead of Monday's House Judiciary hearing MORE (D-Calif.) also downplayed the timing of 2020 politics, noting that U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerPelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 Pelosi sounds hopeful on new NAFTA deal despite tensions with White House On The Money: Economy adds 164K jobs in July | Trump signs two-year budget deal, but border showdown looms | US, EU strike deal on beef exports MORE is still meeting with House Democrats to discuss their policy concerns.

“[Lighthizer] frequently will say, ‘We just don't want to get this into the presidential.’ And I say, ‘These presidential candidates, there are 20, and I think most of them probably would want a better NAFTA.’ I certainly don't speak for them. But, that really doesn't have anything to do with — it's about the substance of the agreement, not the politics at all,” Pelosi said at a press conference before the House adjourned for the July 4 recess.

“We do not want to pass this agreement just slightly different from NAFTA with a little sugar on top and say, ‘See, we did something different,’ ” she said.

Most Democratic presidential candidates are calling for changes to the agreement along the same lines as House Democrats.

Passing the USMCA would be a major legislative accomplishment for Trump as he campaigns for reelection next year. Despite their eagerness to see Trump out of office, Democrats say they want to replace the existing North American trade agreement.

“As I say to the president, to the administration, you have leverage. We want to change NAFTA,” Pelosi said. “I think that's across the board that we do and everybody's working very hard to understand the differences, to try to eliminate some or prioritize as we go along. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to do something.”

But the Trump administration, as well as the Canadian and Mexican governments, have been resistant to reopening the negotiations. Mexico became the first country to ratify the agreement last month, while Canada has yet to do so amid the uncertainty in the U.S.

The White House pointed to Lighthizer’s talks with lawmakers when asked about the path forward to approve the USMCA this year given Democrats dismissing the odds of an August vote. 

“The White House and USTR are working in good faith and constructively with members to address their concerns and Congress needs to approve USMCA, the best trade agreement ever negotiated, as soon as possible,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

Lawmakers and some advocacy groups are starting to shift their expectations that the trade agreement could be approved in the next few weeks to possibly in the fall or the end of the year before 2020 actually arrives.

They point to Pelosi designating nine House Democrats in mid-June to a working group to negotiate with the White House on changes to the North American trade deal and how Lighthizer is regularly meeting with lawmakers as a sign that an agreement could be reached in the coming months.

“The reality is even if it doesn't get done before the August break, there's good momentum for it to be concluded in the fall,” said former Rep. Erik PaulsenErik Philip PaulsenTwo swing-district Democrats raise impeachment calls after whistleblower reports Hopes dim for passage of Trump trade deal Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch MORE (R-Minn.), an honorary co-chairman of the Pass USMCA Coalition who served on the House Ways and Means Committee.

But Trade Works for America, another coalition advocating for approval of the USMCA, is still pushing for action by August. The group is running ads in 52 congressional districts across the country urging lawmakers to support the trade pact, including members of Democratic leadership. 

“We do think the longer you slip into the political calendar, the more difficult an agreement like this is to pass,” said Marie Sanderson, senior adviser to Trade Works for America. “And certainly it becomes more complicated with the political and legislative calendar.”

Sanderson also cited Pelosi’s appointment of a working group as a sign for optimism.

“What we're doing is making sure that we create every opportunity for it to pass this summer,” Sanderson said, before acknowledging “the clock is ticking.”

House Democrats are seeking stronger labor and environmental standards to prevent outsourcing to Mexico, as well as terms to rein in the cost of prescription drugs and ensure transparency for meat labeling.

Before leaving for the July 4 recess, a group of 27 freshman House Democrats spanning the liberal and centrist wings of the party wrote a letter to Lighthizer demanding that the USMCA be renegotiated.

“These improvements are necessary for a renegotiated NAFTA to obtain the broad support it needs to pass,” the Democrats wrote in the letter, spearheaded by Reps. Andy LevinAndrew (Andy) LevinDemocrats work to bring labor on board trade deal House Democrats rebuke State Department for 'reversal' on Israeli settlements The Hill's Morning Report - Tempers boil over at the White House MORE (Mich.), Jesús García (Ill.) and Susan WildSusan WildOvernight Health Care: Democratic group to only endorse AG candidates who back abortion rights | Protect Our Care launches seven-figure ad buy to boost vulnerable Dems | California sues Juul Group launches seven-figure ad buy boosting vulnerable Democrats on drug prices Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite MORE (Pa.).

The letter’s signatories included freshmen in districts carried by Trump in 2016, including Reps. Jefferson Van Drew (N.J.), Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaLawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death Overnight Health Care: Democratic group to only endorse AG candidates who back abortion rights | Protect Our Care launches seven-figure ad buy to boost vulnerable Dems | California sues Juul Group launches seven-figure ad buy boosting vulnerable Democrats on drug prices MORE (Va.), Conor Lamb (Pa.), Jared Golden (Maine) and Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinIran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: report Democrats debate scope of impeachment charges Democrats hit gas on impeachment MORE (Mich.). 

A number of freshmen who signed the letter, as well as some liberal members of the trade working group, also joined an event with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outside the Capitol a day earlier to demand changes to the USMCA.

Levin, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, dismissed the push to vote on the USMCA by August as an “artificial deadline.” But he maintained that House Democrats are sincere about reaching an agreement with the Trump administration.

“I know Mr. Lighthizer feels pressure because he works with the president and the president wants to get it done. But we're working. We're really serious about getting to yes,” Levin said.

“I don't care how long it takes,” Levin added. “If we can really get a real improvement for the people of my district in Michigan, I'm for it.”