Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm

Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm
© Greg Nash

Efforts to advance a new North American trade deal have managed to remain insulated from the rancor of impeachment, with Democrats and Republicans alike signaling a desire to finalize an agreement quickly.

Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyLawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families How centrist Dems learned to stop worrying and love impeachment On The Money: Senate passes first spending package as shutdown looms | Treasury moves to roll back Obama rules on offshore tax deals | Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said he expects a breakthrough in the coming weeks.

“Everything I hear is very positive, constructive,” he said. “It seems to me they continue to move toward common ground.”

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Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroOn The Money: Senate passes first spending package as shutdown looms | Treasury moves to roll back Obama rules on offshore tax deals | Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm House Democrats launch process to replace Cummings on Oversight panel MORE (Conn.), one of the lead negotiators on the Democratic side, said the talks have steadily progressed.

“The negotiations continue in force and in good faith,” she said. “If that were not the case, they would have been shut down long ago.”

Almost a year after President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), House Democrats are engaged in robust negotiations with U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerPelosi sounds hopeful on new NAFTA deal despite tensions with White House On The Money: Economy adds 164K jobs in July | Trump signs two-year budget deal, but border showdown looms | US, EU strike deal on beef exports Chinese, US negotiators fine-tuning details of trade agreement: report MORE to address their concerns about several aspects of the deal, namely provisions focused on enforcement, labor, environment and pharmaceuticals.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Speaker Pelosi, it's time to throw American innovators a lifeline Why Americans must tune in to the Trump impeachment hearings MORE (D-Calif.) has consistently said Democrats want to get to “yes” on the trade pact — a message she has repeated even after opening an impeachment inquiry into Trump over his dealings with Ukraine.

And while the specter of impeachment is weighing heavily on much of Congress’s legislative agenda — appropriators are considering a longer stopgap measure due to concerns over impeachment timing — Democrats are optimistic on the trade front, saying talks are productive and moving in the right direction.

House approval of the trade pact is far from a done deal, though.

If things fall through, DeLauro said, it would be over failure to reach a substantive middle ground, particularly on labor issues.

“What happens in this trade agreement will be a template for future trade agreements, and we cannot get it wrong,” she said Wednesday at an AFL-CIO event on the agreement.

One of the central issues under negotiation is Mexico’s labor laws. U.S. unions worry the Mexican statutes are too lax and put American workers at a disadvantage.

Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellHillicon Valley: Critics press feds to block Google, Fitbit deal | Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-linked accounts | TikTok looks to join online anti-terrorism effort | Apple pledges .5B to affordable housing Dem lawmakers ask Twitter how it will guard against census disinformation Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm MORE (D-N.J.), who recently led a delegation to Mexico to discuss the trade deal, said he was not encouraged by progress on the Mexican side of the border or by the latest offer from the White House.

“I have not seen the reforms we talked about two years ago in what I have seen of NAFTA 2,” he said.

The trade deal is often referred to as the second version of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“I’m not decided how I’m going to vote, but I’m leaning ‘no,’ ” Pascrell added.

The intersection of impeachment and trade has also hit the White House.

Even though Trump has fumed about the impeachment inquiry, he has little incentive to impede progress on the USMCA as he heads into his 2020 reelection campaign.

Trump made trade one of the central pillars of his 2016 campaign but has little to show for it in terms of comprehensive deals.

While the White House has reached a tentative partial trade deal with China, the details are incomplete and a large portion of it focuses on scaling back the massive trade war between the world’s two largest economies that dates back to July 2018.

Delivering the USMCA, with congressional approval, would allow Trump to tout the successful, bipartisan renegotiation of NAFTA as he seeks reelection. Handing the president a campaign victory, however, has made some Democrats hesitant to embrace a new NAFTA.

But not everyone agrees the USMCA can withstand an impeachment firestorm.

“The impeachment gets in the way of everything this important,” said Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsDemocrats seize on new evidence in first public impeachment hearing House Republicans call impeachment hearing 'boring,' dismiss Taylor testimony as hearsay Key takeaways from first public impeachment hearing MORE (R-N.C.), while adding that Democrats would benefit from striking a deal on trade to disprove their critics.

“I don’t know that they’ll do that, but I think it would be a good thing for them,” he said.

Top negotiators on the Democratic side say all parties are moving steadily toward a deal.

Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealJudge sides with NY officials in Trump tax return lawsuit On The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed MORE (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told Bloomberg Law on Tuesday that negotiators could wrap up the labor issues as soon as this week, a major step toward finalizing the agreement.

“We think we’re really close,” he said. “There are a handful of issues that we think could actually on the labor front push this over the goal line.”