Opinion | White House

Republicans and Democrats finally act like adults at negotiating table

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

House Democrats and the White House announced their agreement this week on the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, which will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement once it is enacted. Republican Senator Rob Portman accurately described the compromise necessary to reach the agreement as a "rare feat" that should be celebrated. Indeed, we can celebrate this rare bipartisan legislative victory in Washington.

However, we should also insist that lawmakers working effectively across the aisle for the good of the American people not be such a rarity. For that to happen they will need to overcome the "mythical fixed pie" belief most of them seem to hold that a deal that is good for one party must be bad for the other. That belief was reflected in the news headlines blaring that Democrats caved by handing President Trump this legislative victory.

But to decide whether Democrats let him score a win is the wrong idea. A signed trade deal is good for the Trump because it fulfills his campaign promise to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he described as "perhaps the worst trade deal ever made." It is also good for Democrats because it shows that they are not so focused on impeaching Trump that they cannot work with him to deliver policy for the good of the nation. The new trade deal is good for both parties and Americans as a whole. It would also be good for all of us if lawmakers could transcend partisan pettiness long enough to reach agreements on pressing issues like health care, gun control, climate change, and immigration reform.

However, that will not happen until lawmakers and those of us who elect them to office think of ourselves first and foremost as Americans and only secondarily as Republicans or Democrats, and until we can truly focus on doing what is best for our nation rather than what is best for our party. The question should not be whether the Democrats handed Trump a victory or whether the Democrats scored a win. It should be whether Republicans and Democrats finally worked together to hand workers a trade victory.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when asked why she would give Trump a win, responded, "This is the right thing to do for our trade situation and for our workers." Democratic Representative Daniel Kildee, when asked if the new trade deal was a win for the president, said, "We are working to try to preserve American jobs, and if it does that, the fact that some benefit might accrue to him should not be a reason not to do it."

It is encouraging to see members of both parties set aside pettiness and finally act like adults at the bargaining table long enough to accomplish significant policy together. That will remain a rare occurrence, however, until they are consistently motivated by the shared purpose of serving Americans and treating each other with mutual respect and appreciation. After the deal was announced, however, both sides quickly lapsed into trading insults instead of showing mutual respect and appreciation.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted that Democrats "finally acquiesced to the voice of the American people," in allowing the vote on the new trade agreement. Pelosi described the new deal as "infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration." As a savvy negotiator, she should realize that doing a victory dance that only leaves your bargaining counterpart feeling badly about the deal they just reached with you leaves them less favorably disposed to working with you to reach future deals.

Here is to hoping that Republicans and Democrats overcome their worst bargaining instincts, build on their success in reaching a trade agreement, and deliver even more legislative wins for Americans across the nation.

Joseph Holt is an associate professor who teaches leadership and ethics with the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.

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