Politics

Trump Gets Needed Win With Trade Pact, But Fight With Congress Looms

‘I don’t expect to have much of a problem,’ president says alongside Mexican and Canadian leaders

President Donald Trump greets the media as Argentine President Mauricio Macri shows the way to their meeting before the G20 Leaders’ Summit on Friday in Buenos Aires. (Ricardo Ceppi/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump notched a needed political win Friday when he and his Canadian and Mexican counterparts signed a new trade pact, and he predicted Congress would approve the North American Free Trade Agreement-replacing deal.

Trump, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat at a table in Buenos Aires on the sidelines of a G-20 summit in the Argentine capital and each signed three copies — one for each country — of the agreement. On his last day in office, Pena Nieto joined Trump in holding up a copy showing all three signatures. Notably, however Trudeau did not, leaving the version he signed closed on the table.

The moment was a bit of fitting symbolism as the Canadian leader resisted entering into the agreement, which began as a U.S.-Mexico agreement. U.S. and Mexican officials were forced to negotiate with and press Trudeau’s government hard to sign on, which it did only after getting some concessions as a deadline approached.

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The signing ceremony was a winning battle for Trump, who railed against NAFTA as a presidential candidate then as chief executive. On Friday, Trump hailed what he says will lead to higher wages for U.S. auto workers and expanded access to markets for American agricultural goods. Trump used his unique style to secure the agreement, threatening to simply tear up NAFTA and plunge the North American — and global — economy into a period of uncertainty.

But there are battles ahead with lawmakers before what Trump calls the “USMCA” — short for U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement — will formally replace NAFTA. As he often does, the U.S. president tried to create a narrative about the outcome of Congress’ coming review and votes on the pact.

“I look forward to working with members of Congress,” Trump said. “It’s been so well reviewed I don’t expect to have much of a problem,” he said of garnering congressional approval.

But lawmakers and experts have said the White House has some work to do to get enough votes.

Trump and his counterparts signed the pact amid new questions about his 2016 campaign and contacts with Russians. On Thursday, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III announced a new plea deal with Trump’s former fixer and attorney Michael Cohen that revealed Cohen lied to Congress about the nature and scope of his efforts on behalf of his former client to get approval in Russia for a Trump Tower in Moscow; court documents show Cohen sought Russian President Vladimir Putin’s help, efforts that lasted the entire 2016 campaign.

Trump contended Thursday that the Moscow building project was well known at the time, but that appears to be another false statement. On January 11, 2017, then-candidate Trump said he had “no deals with Russia.”

The latest Mueller move leaves Trump somewhat politically damaged as his disapproval rating in some polls is at an all-time high, though House and Senate Republicans continue standing by him.

Fights are surely ahead with House Democrats next year, while he will be trying to get the trade pact approved. There also are battles ahead with Trudeau.

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The Canadian leader looked stiff during the signing event, and used part of his remarks to call out Trump over his steel and aluminum tariffs. Trudeau said the time has come for the neighbors to find a way to get rid of them. Trump stood a few feet away and lightly nodded at he looked down at his podium.

But there are battles ahead that will essentially make the U.S. and Canadian leaders teammates, like trying to convince General Motors to restore jobs at plants in three American states and Canada that it announced Monday as it tries to cut costs and move to production of bigger vehicles that sell better.

Trudeau called General Motors executives’ decision to cut jobs in his country a “heavy blow” to Canadians. That time, Trump nodded a bigger nod and looked directly at Trudeau.

Their relationship has been rocky at times, something Trump acknowledged.

“Great battles sometimes make great friends,” he said.

The youthful Canadian leader smiled politely and nodded.

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