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Senate panel advances Trump's new NAFTA despite GOP gripes

Senate panel advances Trump's new NAFTA despite GOP gripes
© Greg Nash

A Senate panel on Tuesday advanced President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE’s revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) almost unanimously despite grumbling from conservative lawmakers.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 25-3 to send to the full chamber a bill implementing Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Sens. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyAppeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy MORE (R-Pa.), Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyMichigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test GOP Rep. Mike Bost tests positive for COVID-19 Top Democrats introduce resolution calling for mask mandate, testing program in Senate MORE (R-La.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats, gun control groups attack NRA for efforts to reshape judiciary Hillicon Valley: Threatening emails raise election concerns | Quibi folds after raising nearly B | Trump signs law making it a crime to hack voting systems Trump signs legislation making hacking voting systems a federal crime MORE (D-R.I.) opposed the measure, which passed the House last month with broad bipartisan support.

The GOP-controlled Senate is expected to finalize the USMCA within weeks, cementing Trump’s most substantial victory on trade policy. But Senate leaders could be forced to delay a floor vote until after Trump's impeachment trial if Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Following debate, Biden hammers Trump on coronavirus | Study: Universal mask-wearing could save 130,000 lives | Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight On The Money: Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight | Landlords, housing industry sue CDC to overturn eviction ban Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight MORE (D-Calif.) sends House-passed articles of impeachment to the upper chamber in the coming days.

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While the new trade deal is not the total replacement of NAFTA that Trump promised during the 2016 campaign, it makes significant updates to the 1994 pact that the president called the “worst” trade agreement in U.S. history.

Trump was able to secure the support of Democrats and some labor unions after agreeing to several major concessions. Changes that won over progressives included tougher labor law enforcement, stricter environmental standards and stripping protections for certain high-cost pharmaceuticals.

“When the Trump administration sent up the first version of this new NAFTA agreement, it was just more of the status quo. It didn't cut it,” said Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenPlaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing House Democrats slam FCC chairman over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump MORE (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, who voted in favor of the measure Tuesday.

Most Senate Republicans are eager to hand Trump a victory on one of his top priorities ahead of the 2020 elections, despite their preferences for looser trade restrictions.

But several GOP senators complained Tuesday about being taken for granted.

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“Here we are today, totally jammed by the House and this process, not even able to offer an amendment,” Toomey said. “We've slapped on all of these provisions designed to restrict trade and investment, we’ll get no economic growth out of this. And we, the Senate and the Senate Finance Committee, are allowing ourselves to be marginalized.”

Cassidy, the only other Republican to vote against USMCA on Tuesday, said, “The House got a lot of stuff because the House actually had the ability to say, ‘We're not going to do this unless we get our demands met.’ We've not had that ability.”

Pelosi refused to hold a vote on USMCA without drastic changes to the agreement first proposed by Trump in 2018. After six months of intense and secretive negotiations, Trump and Pelosi announced a deal on a revised pact with the endorsement of powerful labor groups like the AFL-CIO that have long opposed NAFTA.

Trump’s protectionist trade policy has been a constant strain on the president's relationship with congressional Republicans who support reducing trade barriers. Several GOP senators said Tuesday that while they shared the concerns of Toomey and Cassidy, they had little choice but to approve USMCA.

“Sen. Toomey made a bunch of important comments that I agree with as well,” said Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSweden bans use of Huawei, ZTE equipment in new 5G networks McConnell aims for unity amid growing divisions with Trump Cornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' MORE (R-Neb.). “And yet we need to, given the political realities, get this agreement across the finish line.”

Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottFrom HBCUs to Capitol Hill: How Congress can play an important role Democrats unveil bill to reduce police violence against people with mental illness Liberals should embrace Trump's Supreme Court nominee MORE (R-S.C.) added that USMCA “is certainly not a perfect deal, and not necessarily the deal that I would like us to be discussing today, but it certainly is a step in the right direction.”

Trump has threatened to pull out of the original NAFTA agreement if Congress fails to approve USMCA. Doing so would likely derail the economies of all three countries, upend continental supply lines and send prices for groceries soaring.