‘Critics said it couldn’t be done, but he made it happen. Another promise made, another promise kept…’
(Liberty Headlines) One day after its historic impeachment votes, the Democratic-led House gave President Donald Trump an overwhelming bipartisan victory Thursday on a renegotiated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.
By a 385-41 vote, the House approved a bill that puts in place terms of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
The legislation passed after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her colleagues received key concessions from an administration anxious to pass the trade deal before next year’s election season makes that task more difficult.
That political calculus had an even bigger impact on House Democrats, however, many of whom are panicking over the potential fallout from their extremely partisan impeachment vote on Wednesday.
More than 30 vulnerable freshman congressmen from Trump-backing districts had previously pressed House leadership to seal the deal.
Pelosi—whose suggestion that she may not even pass impeachment articles to the Senate has been construed as buyer’s remorse on the flim-flam effort—seems determined to brush the entire spectacle under the rug after capitulating to her radical base and donors.
Prior to undertaking the dubious proceedings, she had declared that she would only do so on a bipartisan basis due to its divisiveness. However, not only failed to garner any Republican support, but saw a handful of Democrats defect as well.
A Gift to Middle America
The deal is projected to have a modest impact on the economy. But, more importantly, it gives lawmakers the chance to support an agreement sought by farmers, ranchers and business owners.
Despite the ever-robust Trump economy, which has seen record growth in areas like low unemployment, months of trade tensions—paired with the ongoing political turmoil from the House Democrats—have complicated spending and hiring decisions.
Even after the passage of impeachment articles on Wednesday, however, investors remained cautiously optimistic as the markets appeared stable.
The fact that many Democrats have been calling for impeachment since Trump was first elected likely blunted the shock that the economy may have otherwise endured. Should the articles be conferred upon the GOP-led Senate for a trial, there is strong confidence that it will result in dismissal or acquittal.
While they wait, the Senate will probably take up the USMCA legislation when members return to Washington after the Christmas holiday.
New Deal, New Era
Trump made tearing up the North American Free Trade Agreement a hallmark of his presidential run in 2016 as he tried to win over working-class voters in states such as Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
“Critics said it couldn’t be done, but he made it happen. Another promise made, another promise kept,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
The agreement also won praise from Democrats who have routinely voted against prior trade agreements.
“Twenty-six years ago, I opposed NAFTA with every bone in my body,” said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. “I never thought the day would come when we would have the opportunity to right some of the wrongs in that agreement.”
The original NAFTA, passed early in the administration of Democrat President Bill Clinton, phased out nearly all tariffs on goods produced and traded within North America.
It replaced a 1988 free-trade agreement between the US and Canada by adding Mexico, which was still considered a developing country.
“NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs,” Clinton said while signing the bill. “If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t support this agreement.”
Critics for years have charged that the old agreement, led to massive losses of high-paying manufacturing jobs in the U.S. as companies moved production to low-wage Mexico.
The International Trade Commission projected in April that the new Trump agreement would boost the economy by $68 billion and add 176,000 jobs six years after taking effect.
Some of the biggest impacts would be felt in the U.S. automotive industry. The agreement aims to see more cars produced where workers earn an average of at least $16 an hour.
The commission found that the new agreement would create 30,000 jobs in American auto parts plants. On the down side, the commission found the pact would increase the cost of pickup trucks and cars. That would hurt demand and reduce the number of jobs in factories that assemble cars by about 1,500.
A Hard Bargain
Business and farm groups had been hitting the airwaves and the halls of Congress to get lawmakers to support the pact, putting pressure on Democrats to work with the administration even as labor unions remained wary that the new deal would be much of an improvement from NAFTA.
Trump, at times, seemed resigned to the assessment that the two sides would never reach a compromise. “She’s incapable of moving it,” Trump said a few weeks ago about Pelosi.
Behind the scenes, Trump’s lead negotiator, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, was working with House Democrats on changes to address their concerns. The agreement includes a process that could lead to inspections of factories and facilities in Mexico that are not living up to labor obligations.
It also secures more than $600 million for environmental problems in the NAFTA region. It scrapped giving pharmaceutical companies 10 years’ protection from cheaper competition in a category of ultra-expensive drugs called biologics, which are used to fight such illnesses as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
In the end, the AFL–CIO labor union endorsed the pact, as did the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative-leaning business groups.
The deal gave Democrats a chance to show constituents they weren’t focused solely on impeachment, particularly first-term lawmakers such as Reps. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., and Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., members of the House negotiating task force who represent districts won by Trump in 2016.
“I promised the people of the low country I’d come to Washington to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, the White House and anyone else necessary to find bipartisan, common-sense solutions to issues impacting our district,” Cunningham said during debate.
He called the bills’ passage “a major step in that direction.”
But Republicans made clear that they weren’t going to allow for an easy pivot after the harsh debate from the day before.
“The bipartisan nature of this deal that we are here discussing today cannot cover up what happened on this floor last night,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
Some Republicans also noted that Democrats took too long to get the agreement across the finish line, but many were quite happy with the result.
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., said the pact reminded him of when he would write a letter to Santa, and it would be answered with most of the presents he wanted on Christmas morning.
“This is certainly one of those times when the letter to Santa Claus actually got answered,” Kelly said.