Senate Approves Revised USMCA Trade Deal by Huge Margin

January 17, 2020 by Dan McCue
President Donald J. Trump congratulates U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer as he delivers remarks on the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) in the Rose Garden at the White House on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Pete Marovich/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Senate handed President Donald Trump a policy victory on Thursday, backing USMCA, the new North American trade deal, the same day the chamber turned its attention to the president’s impeachment trial.

Once it’s signed by Trump, USMCA will replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement — NAFTA — which removed trade barriers on the continent, but also angered some who said it encouraged manufacturers to move plants to low-wage Mexico at the expense of American workers.

The Senate vote was 89-10.

It came a day after Trump signed a new trade agreement with China, easing tensions between the two countries, but leaving many issues for future talks.

“Quite a week of substantive accomplishments for the nation, for the president and for our international trade,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., shortly before the USMCA vote.

Later, staunch Trump supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., hailed the bill’s passage as “a giant step forward for free and fair trade with our North American neighbors.

“This agreement is good for American workers, as it modernizes intellectual property rights, one of the crown jewels of the American economy,” he continued. 

“I congratulate President Trump and his trade team for negotiating the USMCA.  It will help grow the American economy for decades to come,” Graham said.

But the passage of the USMCA inspired more than a Republican victory lap as impeachment storm clouds gathered. Democrats also applauded the agreement, which was revised through the initiative of House leadership.

The New Democrat Coalition, which has long pushed for an update of NAFTA, said the revised deal is a significant improvement on the agreement it is replacing, “meeting the needs of the 21st century economy and reflecting advances in U.S. trade policy.”

In a joint statement, New Democrat Coalition Chair Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash, Vice Chair Rep. Suzan DelBene, and trade task force co-chairs Reps. Ron Kind, Rick Larsen, Gregory Meeks and Lizzie Fletcher, said. “We are proud of the critical role NDC members played in getting a final product that can serve as a template for bipartisan consensus in future agreements.”

“We hope the passage of USMCA will serve as a template for the Administration to proactively work with Congress to negotiate new high-standard, comprehensive agreements that open up new markets for American exports,” they said.

Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y., who participated in a bipartisan meeting at the White House with Vice President Mike Pence last year to discuss USMCA, said, “Today is a great day for American workers, small businesses, and our farmers.

“This took hard work and support from Republicans, Democrats, and the Administration to get this deal done,” Brindisi said. “USMCA will hold Mexico and Canada accountable, help our family farms, and protect American jobs. I will continue to work with both parties and this Administration to get things done.”

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., agreed.

“I commend the Senate for passing this bipartisan deal on USMCA, which will be an incredible boost for jobs across our country and which will bring our trade relationships with Mexico and Canada into the modern era,” Gottheimer said. “With those on both sides of the aisle uniting together, along with the White House, the U.S. Trade Representative, labor groups, American workers, farmers, and businesses, this deal has now been passed by both chambers of Congress, and I look forward to the president signing this deal into law swiftly.”

Trump campaigned in 2016 on ripping up trade deals that he said added to the nation’s trade deficit and cost the country manufacturing jobs. He promised he would rewrite NAFTA if elected, a pact he described as “the worst trade deal in history.”

Now that the deal is done and about to head to Trump’s desk, political analysts believe he’ll go all out touting it in swing states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, telling voters USMCA is a campaign promise fulfilled.

At the White House on Thursday, the president wasn’t in a celebratory mood, instead he fumed over his ongoing impeachment travails.

“Today, we just passed the USMCA. It’s going to take the place of NAFTA, which is a terrible deal, and the USMCA will probably be second to this witch hunt hoax,” Trump said.

For her part, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saw the Senate passage of USMCA as a time for reflection.

While the administration completed its negotiations with Canada and Mexico more than a year ago, Democrats in the House insisted on changes that they said made it more likely Mexico would follow through on its commitments.

As part of those negotiations, the administration agreed to drop a provision that offered expensive biologic drugs — made from living cells — 10 years of protection from cheaper knockoff competition. Democrats overwhelming opposed that provision.

Speaking of the changes needed to be made to the agreement to secure bipartisan support in the House, Pelosi said “The original USMCA draft put forward by the Trump Administration left American workers exposed to losing their jobs to Mexico, included unacceptable provisions to lock in high prescription drug prices and fell short of key environmental standards. 

“Above all, the Trump Administration had failed to secure the concrete, rigorous enforcement mechanisms essential to hold our trade partners accountable to their promises,” she said.

“Today, the Senate passed a USMCA that has been transformed by Democrats’ leadership for American workers, American patients and the environment,” Pelosi continued. “The flimsy enforcement proposed by the Trump Administration has been rewritten by Democrats into the strongest enforcement mechanisms of any U.S. trade agreement.”

But even a bill significantly revised by Democrats couldn’t please everyone.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, voted “no,” the only no vote cast by a current member of the Democratic 2020 field.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who just left the presidential campaign trail, also voted no, explaining he believes the deal fell short of what a revision to NAFTA promised.

“I applaud the efforts of Speaker Pelosi, Senate Democrats, and labor union leaders for negotiating a better deal than the one proposed by President Trump nearly two years ago, a deal that removed the most egregious corporate giveaways while including stronger – and historic –  labor provisions,” he said.

“However, it fails to tackle our most pressing environmental challenges,” he continued. “Climate change is not even mentioned in USMCA, and upon reflection I cannot support a trade deal that does nothing to address this existential threat. USMCA also doesn’t include measures to reduce air and water pollution, and continues to allow corporate polluters to sue and block climate and environmental protections.”

Also voting against USMCA was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

“Despite the fact that it includes very good labor provisions, I am voting against USMCA because it does not address climate change, the greatest threat facing the planet,” he said.

Mexico has already approved the agreement. Canada is expected to do so in the coming months, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government long insisting it would wait for U.S. approval before proceeding.

“House Democrats delivered the strongest trade deal possible for Illinois farmers and workers, and I am glad to see the Senate take this next critical step,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill. “While no agreement is ever perfect, we worked across the aisle to help negotiate a foundation for future trade that addresses the needs of the district, has the toughest enforcement mechanisms our country has ever seen and will serve all Illinoisans. I thank the Senate for their quick action and look forward to this bill becoming law.”


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