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 BradyConservative groups aim to sink bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills Trump economic aide says new tax proposal could be unveiled this summer Hoyer: Democratic chairmen trying to bridge divide on surprise medical bills 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 DeLauroSome kids will spend Christmas in border cages On The Money: House approves Trump USMCA deal in bipartisan vote | Senate sends .4T spending bill to Trump's desk | Why budget watchdogs are howling over the spending deal House approves Trump's USMCA trade deal amid shadow of impeachment 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 TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign 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 LighthizerGOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 Pelosi sounds hopeful on new NAFTA deal despite tensions with White House 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: Justices won't fast-track ObamaCare case before election | New virus spreads from China to US | Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement Why Senate Republicans should eagerly call witnesses to testify Trump health chief: 'Not a need' for ObamaCare replacement plan right now 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 PascrellHouse approves Trump's USMCA trade deal amid shadow of impeachment A solemn impeachment day on Capitol Hill Van Drew, set to switch parties, will vote as a Democrat on impeachment 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 MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules This week: Raucous rules fight, opening arguments in impeachment trial White House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team 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 NealHouse revives agenda after impeachment storm Conservative groups aim to sink bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills Treasury watchdog to investigate Trump opportunity zone program 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.”