The White House and House Democrats are increasingly upbeat that the stalled U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement can be amended and approved in Congress, despite the rancorous impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
“I think it will pass before Thanksgiving,” top Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on CNBC Thursday morning. He told reporters afterward that “there is a sense among both parties that this is an historic trade deal.”
“It is quite true that President Trump and Speaker Pelosi have some significant political differences,” Kudlow said. “On the other hand, down through the many recent months, Speaker Pelosi has been cooperative, accessible, accommodative and helpful in setting up meetings and discussions with our team led by Bob Lighthizer with her key committee chairmen and subcommittee chairmen.”
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has intensified his meetings with a House Democratic working group to reach a USMCA deal. Approving the pact, which would replace the Bill Clinton-era North American Free Trade Agreement, is a key goal for Trump as his re-election campaign nears.
On Thursday, Pelosi said at a press conference that she’s “optimistic” but “we are not there yet.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer Hoyer told a Bloomberg Government audience on Thursday that Democrats are “working hard to get to yes.”
“We think that the USMCA is better than the existing NAFTA,” Hoyer said. “This is not a leadership that is opposed to trade agreements,” he said, noting that he and Pelosi voted for NAFTA.
The Democratic working group is focused on amending provisions on the environment, labor rights, drug patent protections and overall enforcement. After briefing Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the status of the talks on Wednesday, members said the biggest sticking point remains enforcing labor provisions.
“We’re close, but there’s a meeting on labor enforcement where there’s still some distance,” said Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky.
“We are closer than we were a week ago,” said Representative Mike Thompson of California.
A key aspect of the labor provision talks is a discussion with Mexican Finance Ministry officials in Washington this week about whether Mexico has allocated enough funding to implement a new labor law. About 200,000 union contracts, many negotiated without worker approval, need to be re-evaluated under the law in four years.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in an interview this month in the Washington Post, warned that the union group would fight any USMCA that isn’t amended to protect labor rights. The union views weak labor protections in Mexico as lowering wages in the U.S. and contributing to jobs leaving the U.S.
Representative John Larson of Connecticut said his environmental working subgroup was waiting for formal legal language from Lighthizer.