House panel advances Trump's new NAFTA

House panel advances Trump's new NAFTA
© Greg Nash

The House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday approved legislation that would implement President TrumpDonald John TrumpLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Saudi Arabia paid 0 million for cost of US troops in area Parnas claims ex-Trump attorney visited him in jail, asked him to sacrifice himself for president MORE’s revised North American trade deal, readying it for a floor vote that's expected later this week.

By voice vote, lawmakers on the panel recommended passage of a measure that would enact Trump’s proposed update to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Trump and House Democrats reached a deal last week to pass the president’s rebooted NAFTA, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), after six months of intense negotiations. Democrats agreed to take up the deal after securing provisions to tighten labor and environmental law enforcement, and scrap patent protections for high-cost pharmaceuticals.

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“These changes set a new standard for U.S. trade agreements and demonstrate that trade agreements can receive broad bipartisan support if they empower workers, protect patients’ access to affordable health care and improve our shared environment,” Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealTreasury watchdog to investigate Trump opportunity zone program House poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate House to vote Wednesday on sending articles of impeachment to Senate MORE (D-Mass.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said Tuesday.

The panel’s approval of USMCA brings Trump a step closer to a significant victory on a key campaign issue ahead of the 2020 election. While USMCA is not quite the overhaul of NAFTA that Trump promised in 2016, the deal has been praised across party lines as a substantial improvement from the original 1994 pact.

Trump’s criticism of NAFTA played a crucial role in his appeal to voters in industrial states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. All three states reliably supported Democratic presidential candidates until breaking for Trump in 2016, and are essential to the president’s reelection bid.

Teaming up with Trump may also give vulnerable Democrats political cover as they pursue his impeachment, which could pose challenges for vulnerable moderates in 2020.

The House is expected to pass USMCA as soon as Thursday with ample bipartisan support, just one day after Democrats will likely pass articles of impeachment against Trump.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPoll shows Collins displaces McConnell as most unpopular senator Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti on impeachment: 'CNN can see through this nonsense' Trump says impeachment trial should move 'very quickly' MORE (R-Ky.) said the chamber will not be able to vote on USMCA until after Trump’s impeachment trial, which could take until the end of January.

Several Republicans accused Democrats of hindering USMCA with an impeachment probe, bemoaning time lost to clear the agreement since it was first revealed in October 2018.

“Why is it this week that we're voting on this agreement?” asked Rep. Jason SmithJason Thomas SmithCongress must act to modernize the Endangered Species Act Even in a time of impeachment, health care is on the agenda House panel advances Trump's new NAFTA MORE (R-Mo.) on Tuesday. “Is it because the same person who brought this agreement to the table, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.], is also trying to impeach him? That’s unfortunate.”

Democrats countered that Trump’s initial offering wasn’t strong enough to earn their support until they secured victories in 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, who drew a slew of compliments across the aisle.

"The Trump administration handed us a USMCA that needed some work," said Rep. Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellHouse panel advances Trump's new NAFTA Senate must take up Voting Rights Advancement Act without delay The missing piece of the current health care debate MORE (D-Ala.) a member of the House Democratic working group leading negotiations with Lighthizer. "That proposal was a non-starter for Democrats, so we made it better."

The mood in the Ways and Means meeting was festive despite minor partisan jockeying, and some members even invoked the holiday season. Rep. Mike KellyGeorge (Mike) Joseph KellyEven in a time of impeachment, health care is on the agenda Top moments from historic House impeachment debate GOP lawmaker compares impeachment to Pearl Harbor MORE (R-Pa.) compared USMCA to Santa Claus checking off his Christmas Day list.

“I never got everything I asked for, but I was sure as heck thankful for everything I got. This is certainly one of those times for the letter to Santa Claus actually got answered,” Kelly said.

Neal answered Kelly by invoking “another sage of Western political thought” and legendary figure from a cold, northern island: Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.

“You get what you need,” Neal said, quoting the band's classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

The bipartisan back-patting was little comfort for some progressives who remain skeptical despite widespread union support for the agreement.

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.) said he was “deeply uneasy” about the final product and compared the negotiating process to getting “the bum’s rush.”

“There was no higher trade priority for me than updating NAFTA. I definitely wanted a deal that makes a difference,” Pascrell said. “I regret that I am not satisfied with what we have.”

Even so, most Democrats are expected to support replacing NAFTA with what even trade skeptics consider a modest improvement.

“We’ve learned from the blunders of our mistakes,” said Rep. John LewisJohn LewisJohn Lewis to miss Martin Luther King Jr. Day event On The Money: USMCA vote held up as committees review deal | Trump legislation added .7T to debt: watchdog | 97 percent of CFOs expect downturn | Trump says 'phase two' China deal could come after election Democrats call for appointment of permanent IRS watchdog MORE (D-Ga.) “Twenty-six years later, I’m so proud of this bill that begins to correct the ruins of the original NAFTA.”