'A path to yes' on NAFTA will take changes: Bruce Heyman
The Trump administration formally notified Congress it’s moving forward with its plan to get the new Nafta approved -- a move that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called “not a positive step” as her party weighs whether to support the deal.
White House officials submitted a so-called Statement of Administrative Action, a step toward introducing legislation that would bring the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement into force. The move starts a minimum 30-day period for consultations between the White House and Congress to finalize the bill before a vote can take place.
This action could set up a showdown with Democrats who have opposed efforts by the Trump administration to rush a vote on the deal. While some Democrats are also pushing the White House’s goal for approval before the August recess, others are wary of delivering Trump a signature legislative victory as he hits the campaign trail for his 2020 re-election bid.
Pelosi said on Thursday that it was too early for the White House to have issued the notification because Democrats are still working with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to address their concerns.
“It indicates a lack of knowledge on the part of the administration on the policy and process to pass a trade agreement,” Pelosi said in a statement. “We have been on a path to yes, but it must be a path that leads to an agreement that delivers positive results for American workers and farmers.”
In a letter to Pelosi on Thursday, Lighthizer described the statement as a ``procedural formality'' and said the draft provides an outline for further discussions with Congress.“Submission of the draft SAA does not limit our ability to find solutions to address concerns members have raised about enforcement of the labor and environmental provisions of the agreement and pharmaceutical pricing,” he wrote.
Vice President Mike Pence also played down the chance that rushing the draft statement could derail negotiations. Speaking in Ottawa on a visit to discuss advancing the USMCA with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Pence said the administration will continue communicating with members of Congress.
"We remain very confident that the action we've taken today will facilitate more discussions," Pence told reporters. ``Today's action is all about moving forward on an agreement that we know is a win."
Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, the Massachusetts Democrat responsible for the deal's fate in the House, said negotiations will continue as long as there is more to be done to address his party's concerns.
``The premature submission of a draft statement of administrative action has no impact on that outstanding work or the timeline moving forward,” Neal said in a statement.
Other Ways and Means Democrats on the trade subcommittee were less generous toward the administration's action on Thursday. Don Beyer of Virginia called the move a ``counterproductive action'' that threatens to ``upend a collaborative process on USMCA.''
“I want to be clear -- this casts a cloud over the process,” said Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, chairman of the trade subcommittee, in a statement.
The U.S., Canada and Mexico signed the new trade deal in November after a year of negotiations. The Trump administration notified Congress at the end of January that it would need to modify several U.S. laws to make good on proposed changes on auto-content rules and other issues in the agreement.
The notice presented Thursday by the White House to Congress outlines U.S. legal obligations that are required by the USMCA.
Trump is pursuing approval of the deal under so-called fast-track authority, which enables him to seek a straight yes-or-no vote in exchange for clearing certain procedural hurdles.
House Democrats have raised a number of areas where they would like to see changes, including provisions governing labor, the environment and pharmaceuticals. In a step viewed as positive, Pelosi this month created working groups to negotiate with the administration.
The removal of U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico this month also cleared a hurdle for lawmakers of both parties.
In 2008, President George W. Bush tried to force Pelosi to schedule a vote on the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement by sending the deal to the House without her permission. Pelosi engineered a change in House rules to prevent a fast-track vote and stall the agreement for years.
Dwight Evans, a Pennsylvania Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said he believes Congress will eventually resolve its differences and pass the agreement. Still, he warned against rushing the timeline of a process that Pelosi controls and has used as a negotiating tool in the past.
“You are not going to jam Nancy Pelosi,” Evans said.