Trump, Democrats Play Nice on USMCA

By Matthew McMullan
Dec 16 2019 |
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Despite huge partisan divide, a huge trade deal may pass because of … bipartisanship.

Looks like the House Democrats are gearin’ up to impeach President Trump. The vote is scheduled for this week.

Same old partisan politics, right? Democrats and Republicans can't find common ground on anything, right? Right?!?

Wrong! Super wrong: The same day they revealed their articles of impeachment, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic House leadership held a press conference announcing their support for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the Trump administration’s rewrite of NAFTA. It would be much cooler if we could just call this trade deal NAFTA 2, but everyone’s calling it the USMCA. And – despite a last-minute freakout by the Mexican side about the role of the deal’s “labor attaches” – it looks like the USMCA is about to move toward a House vote before this week is over.

Anyway, to get a major trade agreement through a divided Congress, the Trump administration had to make some concessions to Democrats. And U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer seemed very comfortable with that reality on a Sunday morning talk show.

“We had an election and the Democrats won the House,” he said. “It was always my plan and I was criticized for this, as you know, it was always my plan that this should be a Trump trade policy. And a Trump trade policy is going to get a lot of Democratic support.”

It took about a calendar year of negotiating changes to the deal’s text with Lighthizer, but the version the Democrats agreed to is considered more friendly to environmental concerns and labor – so much so that it even got the support of the AFL-CIO, which is a remarkably rare accomplishment. These changes have upset Republicans but, aside from a few holdouts, they’re expected to fall in line and vote for it.

Because what are the Republicans gonna do? Buck their own president and deny his administration a major accomplishment?

He may govern like a conservative Republican in most facets of his presidency, but President Trump’s trade politics aren't typically Republican, and they break up Washington's traditional political alignment. The Republican Party of the last few decades has been unabashedly for unfettered trade, but that corner of the party is disintegrating in the Age of Trump – or, at least, its choosing not to block his trade policies for political reasons. In the meantime, the USMCA will likely pass because the Trump administration compromised with Democrats, and in doing so they all improved the deal. How bout that!

We’ll check back in after Congress actually votes on this trade agreement.