House approves Trump's USMCA trade deal amid shadow of impeachment

The House on Thursday passed a bill to implement President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer employees critique EPA under Trump in new report Fired State Department watchdog says Pompeo aide attempted to 'bully' him over investigations Virginia senator calls for Barr to resign over order to clear protests MORE’s overhaul of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), advancing a crucial piece of his economic agenda with strong bipartisan support.

The bill to enact Trump’s United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) passed 385 to 41, with 38 Democrats, two Republicans and Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashAmash readying legislation allowing victims to sue officers The Hill's Morning Report - Trump mobilizes military against 'angry mob,' holds controversial photo op The Hill's Campaign Report: DOJ, intel to be major issues in 2020 MORE (I-Mich.) voting against the deal. The measure now moves to the Senate, where it is expected to pass after the chamber concludes Trump’s impeachment trial.

The USMCA’s passage in the House marks one of the most significant bipartisan breakthroughs in a bitterly divided Congress. The resounding bipartisan vote comes less than 24 hours after the House voted almost exclusively along partisan lines to impeach Trump, who is unlikely to be convicted and removed from office by the GOP-held Senate. 


Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi scoffs at comparison between Trump and Churchill: 'I think they're hallucinating' Republicans stand by Esper after public break with Trump Pelosi joins protests against George Floyd's death outside Capitol MORE's (D-Calif.) announcement last week that Democrats had reached a deal with Trump to pass USMCA was just an hour after telling the country her caucus would introduce articles of impeachment against the president. 

Despite the shadow of the House’s indictment, Trump and lawmakers in both parties hailed USMCA as a boon for U.S. workers, manufacturers and farmers. 

"Due to Democrats' misguided obsession with impeachment, they neglected moving forward on this pro-worker and pro-growth trade agreement for far too long," said Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyHouse Republican offers bill to create 'return to work bonus' Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support Former Texas Rep. Sam Johnson dies at 89 MORE (R-Texas), ranking Republican on the House Ways and Committee. "Nonetheless, today I am so encouraged that we're here finally moving forward."

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerCalls for police reform sparks divisions in Congress Hoyer wins Maryland House primary Hoyer: Gassing of protestors 'worthy' of Trump censure MORE (D-Md.) offered similar praise for the bipartisan work on the deal while navigating the partisan tensions over impeachment. 

“This vote today, Madam Speaker, is a reminder that even while the House was working on a serious matter regarding the president's accountability for abuses of office, we are still working hard to deliver on our promises to the American people to focus on economic opportunity,” he said. “And in this instance, we are working together.”  

The agreement includes provisions to boost U.S. auto production, increase Canadian market access for U.S. farmers, and raise Mexico’s minimum wage. The deal will also allow Canadians to buy more U.S. goods online duty-free and will also install a new regime of rules relating to digital trade.


USMCA may also prove to be a political win for both Trump, who pledged to rip up NAFTA in 2016, and vulnerable Democrats eager to show moderate voters they can legislate amid impeachment.

Trump’s scorn for NAFTA was crucial to his support among disaffected Democrats in industrial states that lost thousands of jobs under the 1994 pact. His vow to replace NAFTA helped propel him to electoral victories in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which had reliably supported Democratic presidential candidates since 1992. 

Democratic lawmakers have also been fiercely critical of NAFTA, and many were eager to team up with Trump to rewrite the agreement. 

Pelosi brushed off concerns that Democrats could give Trump “a victory to boast about,” calling it a “collateral benefit if we can come together to support America's working families.” 

“The president wants to take credit? So be it. That would not stand in the way of our passing this," she said. 

Trump’s initial proposal fell flat among Democrats, who demanded stricter enforcement measures for labor and environmental laws.

House Democrats and 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, the top White House trade negotiator, spent six months in heated negotiations to overhaul the deal. A final agreement came together early last week after Democrats secured a slew of victories that clinched support from major labor unions and progressive lawmakers.

"House passage of the USMCA with such huge bipartisan support is a major milestone and shows just how much President Trump is successfully changing U.S. trade policy so it works for the benefit of American workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses," Lighthizer said in a statement following the vote. 

Democrats were able to add a provision to create independent panels to ensure Mexican factories are complying with the agreement, and allow the U.S. to impose tariffs on firms that violate the deal’s labor standards.  

The revised agreement also limits the ability of companies to sue countries over regulations that could impede their international sales, a long-standing Democratic goal. They were also able to strip USMCA of a measure to lock in 10 years of market exclusivity for biologic drugs, arguing the provision would inflate high prescription drug prices. 

"On every conceivable front, we have improved the old NAFTA,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support House Democrats press Treasury on debit cards used for coronavirus relief payments House Democrats' bill would create a second round of direct coronavirus relief payments MORE (Mass.), the Democratic leader on trade policy. 

“You can vote for what we've negotiated, or you can embrace the status quo. If this fails today, that's precisely what you're doing."


The changes were enough to win over some of the fiercest Democratic critics of free trade deals, including Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell Brown21 senators urge Pentagon against military use to curb nationwide protests Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues Democratic senators urge regulators to investigate Instacart over 'tip baiting' MORE (D-Ohio) and Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroCOVID-19 workplace complaints surge; unions rip administration Lack of child care poses major hurdle as businesses reopen Frustrations grow over incomplete racial data on COVID-19 cases, deaths MORE (D-Conn.), who blame NAFTA for thousands of job losses in their states. 

“I was determined to make sure that any new trade agreements did not undermine U.S. wages and salaries, accelerate outsourcing, or continue to hurt working people,” wrote DeLauro, one of the chief Democratic negotiators in talks with Lighthizer, in a Friday letter to colleagues.

“USMCA is not a model moving forward, but it establishes important principles we can build from.”

The endorsement of powerful labor groups such as the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers also ensured USMCA would have ample support in the House. 

Not all of DeLauro’s progressive colleagues were convinced, including Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellMultiple N.J. homes for veterans see dozens of coronavirus-related deaths Washington Post fact-checks Kimmel on edited Pence video: 'Certainly a phony tale' NY, NJ lawmakers call for more aid to help fight coronavirus MORE (D-N.J.), who bristled at Neal’s pitch to support USMCA and not maintain the status quo. He argued that the deal would still treat Mexican workers “like chattel” and “American jobs would still flow to other countries." 

“Me and the status quo don't agree most of the time,” Pascrell said. “I mean, I even got a Jerry Garcia tie on today.”


Other influential unions such as the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) also voiced concerns about the deal.

But that Brown, DeLauro and organized labor could support a trade deal proposed by a Republican president reflected the ways Trump has transformed the congressional landscape on trade policy. Several Republican senators griped that USMCA had drifted too far in labor’s favor and would hinder the deal’s fundamental goal of reducing trade barriers. 

Some Republican senators are expected to vote against USMCA. Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy NSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general MORE (R-Pa.), a staunch conservative, said he would oppose the deal over its “myriad provisions to warm the hearts of protectionists,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. Other like minded Republicans are expected to follow. 

Even so, Senate Republicans will almost certainly cement a key pillar of Trump’s economic agenda despite their ideological misalignment with the president.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed