Democrats more optimistic on future of Trump’s new NAFTA

Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) | Getty Images

“The desire of the overwhelming majority of the Democratic caucus is to try to get to yes,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders are increasingly optimistic they can get to a yes on the new North American trade pact after their latest sit-down with President Donald Trump’s trade chief.

Pelosi and House Democratic leaders reiterated that they want to support the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, but first need the administration to address a host of issues, including enforcement of the deal’s labor provisions.

Story Continued Below

While they have been repeatedly stressing their worries about the new pact for months, lawmakers said they now feel that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is making a concerted effort to address their concerns.

“The desire of the overwhelming majority of the Democratic caucus is to try to get to yes,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told POLITICO.

“He understood the concerns … and that absent [a] resolution, it would be very difficult to get to yes on the agreement,” Jeffries added.

The White House has increased pressure on Congress to pass the deal before August recess. The president faces limited potential legislative victories in the coming months, and key constituents like farmers are getting hurt on other trade fights. Pelosi, for her part, has made clear she will not rush to put the deal to a vote until the necessary changes are made to get Democrats on board with the deal, and that could take a while.

Meanwhile, Trump is on the verge of appeasing concerned Republicans with a deal that would lift steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico.

Democrats have demanded the Trump administration reopen the text of the deal to write in stronger language to enforce the deal’s labor and environment standards. They’ve also expressed the need to take out language they say would lock in high prescription drug prices. But administration officials have repeatedly shut down the idea of reopening the deal. Canada and Mexico have also vocally opposed revisiting the text.

Last week, Lighthizer told members of the House Progressive Caucus that their concerns could largely be addressed without changing language in the text, but it remains unclear if he could do that in a way that pleases Pelosi.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said lawmakers “made a series of suggestions” in the 45-minute meeting on how to address the prevailing Democratic concerns. And Lighthizer is being more clear he wants to find solutions that please Democrats, aides said.

The meeting felt much more productive than previous meetings with Lighthizer, as the U.S. trade chief appeared to be engaging much more closely with lawmakers about how to address their concerns, Democratic aides in the room said.

However, Neal and other Democrats were quick to caution that the Trump administration still has not taken any actions or made any specific changes to address their concerns.

“We also think that there’s a ways to go,” Neal told reporters.

A Pelosi aide told POLITICO that Democrats will be planning more discussions with Lighthizer on “key questions about the USMCA proposal.”

Lighthizer did not “speak one way or the other about the mechanics of reopening the text,” Jeffries said, adding that a timeline for passage was not discussed.

It also remains an open question whether Lighthizer will be able to deliver on a deal that satisfies Democrats within the Trump administration’s target window. The final text of the agreement and implementing legislation still has not been submitted to Congress. The U.S. trade chief has previously told lawmakers that he would not send up the agreement until he has Pelosi’s blessing.

“We’re on a path,” said House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). “We’re not on the end of the road.”

https://www.politico.com/story/2019/05/15/democrats-trump-new-nafta-1445243