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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 LighthizerBob LighthizerWhiskey, workers and friends caught in the trade dispute crossfire GOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 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.

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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 BluntThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Greitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP 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.

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“It’s imperfect, and some people are concerned about the more recent negotiations,” said Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerBiden administration faces big decision on whether to wade into Dakota Access fight OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies Senate GOP pushes back on list of participants in oil and gas leasing forum MORE (R-N.D.), but added that he thought a “vast majority” were comfortable with the agreement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election Democrats roll out legislation to expand Supreme Court Wall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study 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 TrumpBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Illinois House passes bill that would mandate Asian-American history lessons in schools Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he 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 CornynIntelligence leaders push for mandatory breach notification law Senate GOP signal they won't filibuster debate of hate crimes bill Application portal for venue grants down for five days with no updates 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 ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote 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."