Trump-Pelosi trade deal creates strife among progressives

Progressive lawmakers and some labor unions are facing internal divisions over whether to support President TrumpDonald John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest MORE's proposed update to a North American trade agreement.

House Democratic leaders this past week announced a deal to pass Trump's revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) after six months of intense, secretive negotiations.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US Judd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Trump asserts his power over Republicans MORE (D-Calif.) and other Democrats touted victories in securing tougher labor law enforcement procedures in Mexico, tightening environmental restrictions and eliminating legal protections for certain drugs in defiance of the powerful pharmaceutical lobby.

ADVERTISEMENT

Those concessions were enough to secure the support of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation and a fierce critic of the original NAFTA.

When AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka hailed “an agreement that working people can proudly support,” he cleared the way for Democrats to back Trump’s deal known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

But that doesn’t mean all Democrats and unions are going along happily.

“We haven't spent enough time putting together the apparatus of how you enforce this and who's responsible for enforcing it,” said 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.), a fierce critic of trade deals. “I don't trust what’s been written.”

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.), a trade skeptic and member of the Democratic USMCA negotiating team, said the caucus’s chief objective was “to staunch the outsourcing,” citing the vast industrial job losses in her district. Despite the new changes to the trade deal, she remains undecided on supporting the USMCA.

DeLauro’s concerns are resonating among progressives who seem powerless to stop the deal at this point, especially given the level of Republican support in the House for the measure.

ADVERTISEMENT

Pascrell said he was hesitant to move forward with the deal after Mexico rejected allowing American inspectors into domestic factories to ensure compliance with a new minimum wage hike, unionization protections and other labor laws.

“There are improvements in labor standards. But again, it comes down to how are you going to enforce it,” Pascrell said. “The fact that did they dismissed American monitors so quickly tells me where they're coming from.”

The House is scheduled to vote Thursday on the USMCA, and it’s expected to pass with strong bipartisan support. Even some of NAFTA’s original opponents are open to supporting the new agreement.

“The question before the House is not ‘NAFTA or no NAFTA.’ It’s ‘NAFTA or new NAFTA.’ And if I think it's a substantial or even a significant improvement over the old NAFTA, I'll support it,” said Rep. Brad ShermanBradley (Brad) James ShermanHouse passes bill that would sanction Chinese officials over Xinjiang camps Dozens of Democrats plan to vote remotely in a first for the House Pelosi says House is looking at bill that could delist some Chinese companies from US stock exchanges MORE (D-Calif.), who voted against the 1994 pact.

Trump vowed during his 2016 campaign that he would rewrite NAFTA, a pledge that proved crucial to delivering electoral victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — three states that had reliably supported Democratic presidential candidates since 1992.

Pelosi voiced early interest in revising NAFTA with Trump and fostered a strong relationship 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, the top White House trade negotiator. Even as Pelosi condemned Trump’s conduct as president, she insisted that Democrats would remain on a “path to yes” as long as the White House negotiated in good faith.

“There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA,” Pelosi said Tuesday, shortly after the AFL-CIO voiced its approval. “In terms of our work here, it is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration.”

Striking a deal with Trump on a signature issue was seen as a way for Pelosi to give political cover to vulnerable centrist Democrats worried about an impeachment backlash in 2020. But much of her caucus was reluctant to move forward if it meant spurning organized labor, a pillar of the Democratic base.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a moderate who strongly supports the USMCA, said the Democratic caucus broke into four basic groups: those ready to support the deal from the get-go, those who hinged their support on Pelosi, those who needed labor’s blessing and those who “even if they wrote the bill, they would vote no.”

The AFL-CIO endorsement proved to be the final hurdle to cementing Democratic support for the trade deal in the House. The United Steelworkers also called for the deal’s passage, while the United Automobile Workers and the Communications Workers of America praised the changes without taking a formal position. 

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers opposed the agreement over concerns it would do little to stop the flow of factory jobs to Mexico.

Outside trade critics have offered measured support.

ADVERTISEMENT

“The revised-revised NAFTA is not a template for working people and planet-first agreement, but it does have changes that could counter some of NAFTA's ongoing serious damage,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Even so, Wallach said, the vast industrial job losses driven by NAFTA “makes a deal that is less than a transformational, progressive pro-worker deal worth considering.”

Support from organized labor helped bring some of the most ardent Democratic trade hawks around to the USMCA, including Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHillicon 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' Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (Ohio) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Senate Dems pump brakes on new stimulus checks | Trump officials sued over tax refunds | Fed to soon open small-business lending program Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Voting rights, public health officials roll out guidelines to protect voters from COVID-19 MORE (Ore.), who endorsed the deal Friday.

Brown has never voted for a trade deal during his 26 years in Congress and had long criticized Trump’s trade policy. Yet the Ohio Democrat said Friday that after fighting “tooth and nail” against Trump, pro-labor Democrats and unions were able to secure “the strongest-ever labor enforcement in a U.S. trade deal.”

There is rarely daylight between Brown and industrial unions, and the senator ceded Friday that USMCA was “not a perfect agreement.”

Jessica Wasserman, a former Commerce Department official who’s now a partner at the law firm Greenspoon Marder LLP, said the importance of the trade deal’s endorsement by the AFL-CIO cannot be overstated.

“In the past, it's been that the AFL-CIO would be the toughest one to get through, so to speak,” she said. “Without the clear labor support, in the end there may have been a lot of division about the agreement and it perhaps would have become more of an issue in the election.”