Official: White House not worried Senate’s lack of input might sink USMCA

Trade pact biggest ‘casualty of Speaker Pelosi’s impeachment obsession,’ McConnell says

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., conducts a news conference Tuesday on a deal reached with the White House on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., conducts a news conference Tuesday on a deal reached with the White House on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted December 12, 2019 at 2:23pm

The White House has no concerns that Republican senators might jump ship on President Donald Trump’s sweeping USMCA trade pact after they were told Thursday a deal with House Democrats will leave them unable to press for further changes.

“We haven’t heard any Senate Republicans come out and say they’re opposing the deal on substance,” a White House official said Thursday, granted anonymity to be candid. “I have no concerns.”

For months, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has negotiated with a House working group established by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat calls the final version, which Canadian and Mexican officials have endorsed, “infinitely better” than the incarnation the three countries initially brokered.

One reason: House Democrats secured changes they say would, if all three countries’ legislatures sign off, install stricter labor protections.

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The working group process allowed Pelosi’s caucus to alter the proposed pact, and it appears a sizable number of her members are poised to vote in favor of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement when it hits the chamber floor next week.

“You don’t have to have unanimity, you just have to have consensus,” the speaker said at an event sponsored by the Wall Street Journal of her caucus and passing the trade pact on the floor.

Senate leaders, however, won’t get a chance to do the same.

The White House’s deal with House Democrats means the Senate will have no input for further changes, Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said Thursday after a briefing from Lighthizer.

The Trump administration instead intends to send Congress a final implementing bill soon. That means there will be no measure the Finance Committee could review and use to propose changes, the Iowa Republican said.

Some Capitol Hill reporters tweeted frustration by other GOP lawmakers about their lack of input as they left the Lighthizer briefing. But the White House official suggested those gripes will fade over time.

“The trade representative kept the Senate informed the whole time,” the official said of the working group negotiations. “There’s a difference between process and substance.”

As the White House continued preparing for the NAFTA-replacing pact to eventually take effect, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday panned Pelosi for holding it up.

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“There’s been one major casualty of Speaker Pelosi’s impeachment obsession: Congress’s ability to pass the president’s USMCA this year,” McConnell said Thursday morning on the Senate floor. “It was more than a year ago that President Trump first signed the draft agreement with the leaders of Canada and Mexico.

“That’s how long House Democrats dragged their heels … and kept 176,000 new American jobs on ice,” the Kentucky Republican said. “But actions have consequences. The speaker’s action was so belated that the administration is still, still in the process of writing the actual bill. We don’t have a bill yet.”

White House officials for months have slammed Pelosi even as Lighthizer credited her and House Democrats for negotiating in good faith.

For his part, the president on Monday signaled confidence as the measure heads for final votes.

“We’re doing very very well on USMCA, hearing from unions and others that it’s looking good,” he told reporters. “A lot of strides over the last 24 hours.. … If they put it up for a vote, it’ll pass.”

Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.

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