Senate GOP hopes to move new NAFTA deal before impeachment trial

Senate GOP hopes to move new NAFTA deal before impeachment trial
© Greg Nash

Republican senators are hoping to pass President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE’s new trade deal with Canada and Mexico before they begin a multiweek impeachment trial that would leave unfinished legislation in limbo.

GOP senators say they hope the committees with jurisdiction over the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which would replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, will complete their reviews this week, setting up a floor vote for next week.

The timing, however, depends on when Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump says he opposes mail-in voting for November On The Money: Economy sheds 701K jobs in March | Why unemployment checks could take weeks | Confusion surrounds 9B in small-business loans The bipartisan neutering of the Congressional Budget Office MORE (D-Calif.) sends over articles of impeachment from the House, which would automatically trigger a Senate trial and put most if not all other legislative activity on hold. She has been holding onto the articles as Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate have failed to pass a resolution setting rules for the trial.

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“I’m not sure we can get it all cleared by the end of the week, but I would like to have been able to wedge this in before the impeachment process starts,” said Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump's magical thinking won't stop the coronavirus pandemic Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill MORE (S.D.), a member of the Finance Committee, which has lead jurisdiction over the trade deal.

“The committees are deciding now to move fairly quickly to expedite it,” he added, noting that the Appropriations and Environment and Public Works committees also have jurisdiction.

Thune said the chances of approving the NAFTA replacement deal before the start of the impeachment trial depends “on when the trial were to begin.”

The Finance Committee voted 25-3 on Tuesday to advance legislation implementing the trade deal.

The legislation has also been referred to the Commerce Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

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The House voted overwhelmingly to approve the trade deal on Dec. 19 by a vote of 385-41.

If Pelosi sends the articles of impeachment to the Senate by the end of this week or the start of next week, the trade deal will probably have to wait, Thune predicted. But if the standoff over the trial’s rules last until the end of next week, then there’s a window to act on trade.

“If we get the articles at the end of the week and we start [the trial] next week, it’s looking less likely only because there are so many committees that have to act on it,” he said. “My hope was, starting this week, that we could get all that done and get it on the floor by the end of the week.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsCoronavirus stimulus talks hit setback as crisis deepens Garth Brooks accepts Library of Congress's Gershwin Prize for Popular Song GOP, Democrats hash out 2020 strategy at dueling retreats MORE (R-Kan.), a vocal proponent of the trade deal, said “there’s a lot of support for moving this to the floor as fast as possible.” 

“For farmers, ranchers and growers around the country, this has been delayed for too long,” Roberts said, adding that the trade deal could move before the impeachment trial if the fight over procedure continues to drag on.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Democratic lawmakers demand government stop deporting unaccompanied children MORE (Ill.) said he doesn’t know when Pelosi will send the impeachment articles to the Senate.

“I think she will be moving on it. I can’t tell you what her timetable will be,” he said. “I hope she’ll consider it this week."

“I think there’s patience. I think we understand to this point we’ve had limited opportunity, even if she sent the articles earlier, to get started with this. I don’t think we’ve lost any opportunity or time,” he added.