Impeachment fight threatens trade deal

Impeachment fight threatens trade deal
© Aaron Schwartz

The growing fight over impeaching President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE is threatening to scuttle any chance that Congress will pass his trade deal meant to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The Trump deal, known as United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), would hand the president and congressional Republicans a win after a months-long lobbying effort as they head toward the 2020 election.

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But Trump and GOP senators, who were already keeping a close eye on the calendar, are publicly fretting that it could fall victim to the high-stakes impeachment fight, which looks set to dominate the end of 2019.

“I’ve got a great deal of concern,” said Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGraham vows Biden, Ukraine probe after impeachment trial GOP warns of 'drawn out' executive privilege battle over Bolton testimony  Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses MORE (R-Wis.). “I hope people can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneNo. 2 GOP leader eyes Wednesday of next week for possible votes on witnesses Restlessness, light rule-breaking and milk spotted on Senate floor as impeachment trial rolls on Republicans take aim at Nadler for saying GOP senators complicit in 'cover-up' MORE (R-S.D.) added that lawmakers are “going to have to learn how to multitask.”

“The House going down this path is really getting in the way of the legislative agenda. It’s certainly a complicating factor,” he said.

The USMCA curveball comes as administration officials, led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerGOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 Pelosi sounds hopeful on new NAFTA deal despite tensions with White House MORE, have been holding closed-door negotiations with House Democrats for months as they try to get it through Congress.

House Democrats focused much of their weekly caucus meeting Wednesday on the topic of the evolving trade deal. Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealKey House committee chairman to meet with Mnuchin on infrastructure next week Coalition of conservative groups to air ads against bipartisan proposal to end 'surprise' medical bills House revives agenda after impeachment storm MORE (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was hopeful the sides could reach a deal, but emphasized that enforcement mechanisms — a chief concern among labor unions — remain a sticking point.

He also rejected the notion that the impeachment inquiry means all cooperation between Democrats and the White House will cease.

“There is no reason to let the inquiry get in the way of what we’re doing in the Ways and Means Committee,” he said.

But even as Democrats and White House officials remain publicly optimistic about the chances of an agreement, Trump cut off Lighthizer on Wednesday while the two were speaking in New York to pour cold water on USMCA getting a vote amid the impeachment fight.

“It’s a fantastic deal for our country. And it’s possible they won’t vote. I mean, I know these people much better than you do,” Trump said as he interrupted Lighthizer.

He added that he didn’t know if Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Social Security emerges as flash point in Biden-Sanders fight | Dems urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency | Trump to sign USMCA next week Veronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address MORE (D-Calif.) would “have time” to bring up USMCA while dealing with impeachment.

“I don’t know whether or not they’re going to have time to do any deals. I don’t think they can do any deals. ... I don’t know that they’re ever going to get a vote because they’re all fighting,” Trump said.

Republicans have been trying to increase pressure on the House to take up the trade agreement and for the administration to send up the implementation legislation.

“Instead of bringing the USMCA bill to the floor, ... Nancy Pelosi is wasting her Speakership trying to undo the results of the 2016 election by impeaching the president with no basis,” House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Cheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter Trump welcomes LSU to the White House: 'Go Tigers' MORE (R-La.) said Wednesday during a press conference.

Lawmakers had initially hoped the administration would send the language to Capitol Hill in September, but that timeline slipped as negotiations dragged on. Once the implementation legislation is introduced, the House has to vote on it within 60 session days.

Republicans view it as critical that the NAFTA replacement gets ratified this year. Letting it drag into 2020, they worry, would mean it could fall victim to campaign politics, when both sides will turn their focus to winning the White House and control of Congress.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGraham vows Biden, Ukraine probe after impeachment trial Social security emerges as latest flash point in Biden-Sanders tussle Trump to sign USMCA next Wednesday MORE (R-Iowa) warned Wednesday that “we’re running out of calendar days in 2019.”

He also cautioned Democrats against letting the impeachment battle impact the trade deal’s chances, adding that “it would only show that the Democrats are more interested in politics than they are policy.”