WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence pushed for Congress to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement at the conservative Heritage Foundation Tuesday.
Pence didn’t mention one thing during his speech, the name or title the leader without whom the trade agreement, dubbed USMCA, will not happen: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi on Tuesday told CNBC’s Jim Cramer that “we hope that we’re on a path to yes. The most important issue outstanding is enforceability.”
Without her support, a new pact is unlikely. As a Center for Strategic and International Studies online series noted, Pelosi “will have the final decision on when the agreement is brought to a vote. The longer the vote is delayed, though, the more likely it is that the USMCA falls victim to 2020 election politics and becomes a difficult issue for Democrats.”
Pelosi rejected the notion that Democrats would spurn the deal rather than give Trump a win ahead of the 2020 election. “The idea that we would give a victory to the president is irrelevant,” Pelosi told CNBC. “It’s a victory for the America people.”
But Mark Harkins, senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute, thinks politics could scuttle a deal. “I think there’s an awful lot on the table in front of that. We can’t even figure out how to keep the government open after Oct. 1.”
Pelosi needs win-win
Harkins rattled off other unsolved issues in Washington – impeachment, universal background checks for gun purchases, funding for a wall on the southern border – and predicted USMCA would not pass unless Pelosi can notch up some other legislative victories.
“Everything goes away starting in January and February,” when the speaker will let the likely Democratic nominee set policy, he said.
Another factor, Harkins offered, is that trade pacts are more favorable to states than to congressional districts, where urban areas enjoy better representation than they do in the Senate.
James Carafano, Heritage’s vice president for national security and foreign policy, thinks the pact can be ratified this year. The argument against passage for Democrats is that “it gives the president a win. But look, there’s a lot of Democrats who want to vote for this.”
It was almost a year ago on Oct. 1 that President Donald Trump took to the Rose Garden to announce the deal “to terminate and replace NAFTA,” which he described as “perhaps the worst trade deal ever made.”
U.S., Canada yet to act
The announcement was followed by a signing ceremony on Nov. 20, 2018. Mexico ratified the treaty in June by a 114 to 4 vote, but the Canadian parliament and Congress have yet to ratify the pact.
As a show of support, Mexican Ambassador to the United States Martha Barcena and Canadian Ambassador to the United States Kirsten Hillman sat in the front row.
The White House has dispatched Pence to multiple venues to serve as the in-house wrangler for the trade measure, which the International Trade Commission estimated would create nearly 180,000 American jobs.
Pence told the Heritage Foundation audience that a USMCA deal also would strengthen Trump’s hand as he wrestles with China over trade.
Trump, Pence noted, “has done his job. Canada and Mexico are doing their job. Now we need Congress to do its job and pass the USMCA.”
For months, Pelosi has been negotiating with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for provisions to protect labor standards, prevent prescription drug price increases and include environmental protections.
An editorial last week in the Washington Post noted, “As for the Democrats’ expressed objections to the enforcement provisions for labor and environmental rules, or what they decry as unduly long patent protections for the makers of brand-name drugs, similar objections have been raised to other trade deals in the past, and Ms. Pelosi found compromises. She could do so again.”
“We signed up the toughest and smartest trade negotiators we’ve ever had to crack down on China’s unfair trade practices and negotiate new trade deals with our partners around the world. We’ve ended the era of economic surrender.”
-Vice President Mike Pence, Sept. 17