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Will Democrats Try To Block The New North American Trade Deal Despite Getting What They Say They Want?

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Despite the International Trade Commission’s models estimating that the Trump administration’s replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would increase U.S. GDP by $68.2 billion and create 176,000 new jobs, convincing Congress to pass it hasn’t been easy.


U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has reportedly been making weekly trips to Capitol Hill, forgoing some of his other work related to trade discussions with China, in an attempt to convince Democrats in Congress to support the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade proposal and get it to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) so she can bring it to the floor for a vote.

But Democrats are balking for reasons that have already, arguably, been addressed in the USMCA and are certainly marked improvements over NAFTA. Pelosi has made statements the deal needs to be “surgically” reopened to please Democrats.

This reticence led Washington Post columnist and former Republican speechwriter Marc Thiessen to suggest in a column Thursday, following a podcast interview with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), that because the USMCA is such an improvement over NAFTA, Trump should make Democrats own the latter if they won’t vote for the former.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has a better idea: Trump should tell Democrats that they will own NAFTA if they oppose his deal to replace it. The message should be “if you’re a Democrat, you essentially are voting for NAFTA if you vote no on USMCA,” Portman explained in an interview on the American Enterprise Institute’s new podcast, , “What The Hell Is Going On,” which I co-host. If the USMCA fails, he says, “you go back to the status quo, which is NAFTA.”

Besides, Portman says, there is no good reason for Democrats to oppose the USMCA because “it is such a much better agreement for Democrats than NAFTA. … It’s everything that they’ve been asking for, in terms of improving the NAFTA accords.”


Thiessen lays out the numerous ways that USMCA improves upon NAFTA, from environmental standards (there are none in NAFTA) to labor protections (secret ballot votes and a minimum wage for Mexican workers).

Portman says Trump should tell Democrats, "Wait a minute, this is all the stuff you said you wanted.” 

Vice President Mike Pence, who recently hosted a CEO roundtable event at the White House where Fortune 100, medium-sized, and small business representatives were invited to discuss what they thought about the new trade deal, penned his own op-ed touting the benefits of the new trade pact and encouraging Congress to pass the deal.

Pence mentions something that at least one attendee of the White House event found very encouraging.

"USMCA will eliminate NAFTA’s loophole that lets foreign car companies buy auto parts from China or Europe, assemble them into vehicles in Mexico, and then sell those vehicles duty-free in the United States," the vice president noted. 

Nicole Wolter, who attended Pence’s CEO roundtable on USMCA, is President & CEO of HM Manufacturing, a custom gear creator in Wauconda, Ill. with about 20 employees. Wolter, a member of the Job Creators Network, said the opportunity to learn more about the trade deal directly from the administration gave her a sense of optimism, both for her own business outlook and for others she believes crucial to the American economy.

“What I love about the deal is that it ensures manufacturers can sell their products duty-free to Canada and Mexico,” Wolter said. “And it levels the playing field while expanding U.S. manufacturing access, increasing fair competition, making rules stronger to protect ideas and inventions.”


Wolter also said she learned more about other industries, the struggles they’ve faced, and how USMCA will begin to address those.

“This deal is especially good for farmers,” Wolter said. “Apparently three farmers a day are going bankrupt. That is catastrophic. So we need to get this passed so we can continue on.”

Mexico has already ratified the agreement and was incentivized to help address the border crisis when Trump indicated he may pull back from the deal if the migrant caravan situation at the Southern border did not improve. 

The deal requires ratification by all three countries. It is expected to pass easily in Canada and lawmakers are expecting to take up the agreement after September.

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