Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst on trade deal

Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst on trade deal
© Anna Moneymaker

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 faced pushback and a “bucket full” of questions Thursday during a closed-door caucus lunch meeting meant to sell Senate Republicans on the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

Republican senators stressed that they expect the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will have the votes to pass the Senate, but acknowledged there was still opposition within the caucus and broader frustration with how the trade negotiations had been handled.

“There’s some opposition to some pieces of it, as you might imagine,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) told reporters after the lunch.


Perdue added that “personally, I would have liked to have a little more time to look at it,” but predicted that the trade deal wouldn’t lose a lot of Republican votes when it comes to the floor next year.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTrump team doubles down despite Bolton bombshell Bolton upends Trump impeachment trial  Bolton sparks internal GOP fight over witnesses MORE (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, acknowledged that Lighthizer got some criticism from Senate Republicans but stressed that it was “not a lot.”

“I think you could summarize the ambassadors presentation as: This is a big improvement over NAFTA. But it’s not quite as good as the bill he originally negotiated, but he is still thinks it's a big improvement,” Blunt said, in reference to the North American Free Trade Agreement. “The questions were ... mostly about the things that had changed."

House Democrats announced earlier this week that they had reached a deal with the White House on USMCA after months of closed-door negotiations on the updated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The announcement of the deal, and the fact that they had brought labor on board, prompted skepticism among Republicans who worried the agreement had shifted too far to the left.


“It’s imperfect, and some people are concerned about the more recent negotiations,” said Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerRepublicans show little enthusiasm for impeachment witness swap McConnell urges GOP senators to keep powder dry on witness question Bolton sparks internal GOP fight over witnesses MORE (R-N.D.), but added that he thought a “vast majority” were comfortable with the agreement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans show little enthusiasm for impeachment witness swap Overnight Health Care — Presented by Philip Morris International — CDC, State Department warn against travel to China | Biden says Trump left US unprepared for epidemic | Justices allow Trump 'public charge' rule to move forward Progressive group targeting vulnerable GOP senators on impeachment witnesses MORE (R-Ky.) has said the Senate will not take up the trade deal until next year after the chamber finishes an expected impeachment trial for President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren: Dershowitz presentation 'nonsensical,' 'could not follow it' Bolton told Barr he was concerned Trump did favors for autocrats: report Dershowitz: Bolton allegations would not constitute impeachable offense MORE.

“From my perspective, it’s not as good as I had hoped," McConnell told reporters during a weekly press conference Tuesday.

But GOP senators indicated after the Lighthizer meeting that there are concerns about the process for how the trade deal will move through the Senate.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynBolton sparks internal GOP fight over witnesses Trump legal team begins second day of arguments under Bolton furor Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president MORE (R-Texas), a top adviser to McConnell, said he did not expect the Senate Finance Committee to have a mock markup of the trade deal, which under previous agreements would allow them to suggest changes that could be worked in to a final proposal.

“It’s a bad practice and I don’t think the Senate should just quietly agree to be jammed in the process,” Cornyn said, adding that it was a “lousy way to treat the Senate.”

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE (R-Pa.) said he had also heard the Senate Finance Committee would not be holding a mock markup of the trade deal.

“We have to have an opportunity to weigh in on that,” Toomey said. “This is a problem.”

Toomey said he raised his concerns with Lighthizer during the lunch and at two separate meetings with Senate Finance Republicans.

When asked if he spoke directly to Lighthizer about his concerns, Toomey said: "I did. In fact, I raised them at the meeting we had before the lunch and I raised them on the phone call the day before that."