Flake: NAFTA has been 'wonderful' for US

Flake: NAFTA has been 'wonderful' for US
© Greg Nash

Republican Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (Ariz.) on Monday defended the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), saying the trade deal has been "wonderful" for the signatories even as the Trump administration negotiates to rework the pact.

“NAFTA has been wonderful for Mexico, Canada, and the United States,” Flake said during an event hosted by the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service.

Flake, a noted critic of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE, said the president has an "unhealthy" concern with trade deficits.

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Flake's comments come as negotiators discuss revising the pact on terms Trump finds more favorable for the U.S. On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to pull the U.S. out of the trade pact without better terms. Last month, though, Trump toned down his rhetoric, telling a farm group that he would negotiate a "better deal" for American businesses.

Flake warned pulling out of trade pacts would leave the U.S. falling behind other countries and no longer viewed as a "reliable trade partner."

Flake also called Trump's decision to exit the Trans-Pacific Partnership a "big mistake" and "the biggest gift we could give to China."

Flake announced last year that he would not seek reelection and took to the Senate floor to deliver an impassioned speech criticizing Trump. Earlier this month, he spoke again from the floor, slamming the president's attacks on the media.

On Monday, Flake praised congressional Republicans and Trump for passing a massive tax-reform package "so we can compete globally."

But he cautioned, “if we don’t aggressively work for multilateral trade deals and bilateral, any trade deal we can get, we’re going to be left behind.”

Flake also criticized taking a hard line on immigration amid a fight in Congress on border security and protections for young immigrants.

The senator said that when he was younger he "got to know" the migrant workers on the farm and had  “never been able to look at them as a criminal class.”

Flake also said if Republicans continued to "shut out different groups," in particular immigrants, the party was "going into irrelevance."

This story was updated at 1:50 p.m.