House overwhelmingly approves Trump trade deal with Mexico and Canada

'Critics said it couldn’t be done, but he made it happen.'

Posted: Dec 19, 2019 4:00 PM
Updated: Dec 19, 2019 4:10 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — One day after its historic impeachment votes, the Democratic-led House gave President Donald Trump an overwhelming bipartisan victory Thursday on a renegotiated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

By a 385-41 vote, the House approved a bill that puts in place terms of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds issued the following statement on the House passage of USMCA:

“Today’s vote is a strong step forward to ratifying USMCA, strengthening our relationship with Iowa's top two trading partners, Mexico and Canada.

“For over a year, I stood alongside President Trump, Vice President Pence, and key stakeholders in Iowa to call on Congress to ratify USMCA. This is a balanced trade agreement that will benefit families, farmers, manufacturers, and small businesses all across our state.

“I want to thank President Trump, Ambassador Lighthizer, and the entire administration for their work so far. Now, it’s critical for the U.S. Senate to move quickly to vote and ratify the agreement.”

Minnesota Congressman Jim Hagedorn said this about his vote for the trade deal:

“The USMCA is a long overdue, much needed and well-deserved bipartisan win for the American people. The agreement is a huge win for our farmers, businesses, workers and families in Minnesota’s First District and throughout the nation. It will open new markets, expand economic opportunity and create high-wage jobs, build momentum for trade deals with China and other nations, and help sustain our rural way of life in southern Minnesota.”

Iowa Congressman Steve King said this on the House floor about his support for USMCA:

“Thank you, Madame Speaker, and I thank the Gentleman from Texas, the Ranking Member of the Ways and Means Committee, and perhaps one of the most successful in my modern time.

I’m looking at this USMCA trade agreement. I’ve said from the beginning that I would not have opened up NAFTA. It was good for Iowa agriculture, it was good for Iowa manufacturing, it was good for America in many areas. But the President promised that he would open it up, and that he would prevail in his negotiations. He has followed through and he has kept his word.

For a year and a half, I’ve been having discussions with every entity that I can find that has been affected by this trade agreement. They all say, ‘we are better off!’ They might say ‘we are marginally better off,” but they say ‘we are better off!’ Until you get to dairy, where we are a lot, lot, better off than we were in the past.

This is a terrific trade agreement. Whatever the nuances were afterwards were some changes that didn’t affect, I don’t think, the district that I represent. But what this amounts to is this: It’s a huge victory for the President of the United States, for Americans everywhere, for Iowans in the 4th Congressional District which is the number one agriculture producing district in all of America.

We are happy, we are delighted, we are thankful to have this Christmas present coming to us. We say, ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. President.’ Merry Christmas, America.”

 

Iowa Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer also supported the deal and made this statement:

“I am happy to see and be a part of bipartisan passage of the UMSCA. This is a win for Iowa’s farmers who will have certainty now that the president will not fulfill his reckless threat to pull out of NAFTA and cost us even more with our trading partners. With the new provisions included, this ensures we will stop bleeding American jobs to other countries and will work as well to start to bring these jobs back home.”

The legislation passed after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her colleagues won key concessions from an administration anxious to pass the trade deal before next year’s election season makes that task more difficult.

The deal is projected to have only a modest impact on the economy. But it gives lawmakers from both parties the chance to support an agreement sought by farmers, ranchers and business owners anxious to move past the months of trade tensions that have complicated spending and hiring decisions.

The GOP-controlled Senate probably will take up the legislation when members return to Washington after the holidays and after dealing with impeachment.

Trump made tearing up the North American Free Trade Agreement a hallmark of his presidential run in 2016 as he tried to win over working-class voters in states such as Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

“Critics said it couldn’t be done, but he made it happen. Another promise made, another promise kept,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Some said the agreement did not do enough to prevent U.S. jobs from relocating to Mexico, but it won praise from Democrats who have routinely voted against prior trade agreements.

“Twenty-six years ago, I opposed NAFTA with every bone in my body," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. “I never thought the day would come when we would have the opportunity to right some of the wrongs in that agreement."

Pelosi said the agreement was “light years" ahead of what the administration negotiated with Canada and Mexico. “We knew we could do better," Pelosi said.

The original NAFTA phased out nearly all tariffs on goods produced and traded within North America. It was extraordinary because it linked two wealthy, developed countries with a poor, developing country. Since then, trade with Canada and Mexico has increased more rapidly than trade with most other countries.

Democrats for years have charged that NAFTA led to massive losses of high-paying manufacturing jobs in the U.S. as companies moved production to low-wage Mexico. Trump distinguished himself from free-trade Republicans in the presidential primary with his NAFTA-bashing rhetoric, and his administration got Canada and Mexico to negotiate a rewrite.

The International Trade Commission projected in April that the agreement would boost the economy by $68 billion and add 176,000 jobs six years after taking effect.

Some of the biggest impacts would be felt in the U.S. automotive industry. The agreement aims to see more cars produced where workers earn an average of at least $16 an hour.

The commission found that the new agreement would create 30,000 jobs in American auto parts plants. On the down side, the commission found the pact would increase the cost of pickup trucks and cars. That would hurt demand and reduce the number of jobs in factories that assemble cars by about 1,500.

Business and farm groups had been hitting the airwaves and the halls of Congress to get lawmakers to support the pact, putting pressure on Democrats to work with the administration even as labor unions remained wary that the new deal represented much of an improvement from NAFTA.

Trump, at times, seemed resigned to the assessment that the two sides would never reach a compromise. “She's incapable of moving it,” Trump said a few weeks ago about Pelosi.

Behind the scenes, Trump’s lead negotiator, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, was working with House Democrats on changes to address their concerns. The agreement includes a process that could lead to inspections of factories and facilities in Mexico that are not living up to labor obligations.

It also secures more than $600 million for environmental problems in the NAFTA region. It scrapped giving pharmaceutical companies 10 years' protection from cheaper competition in a category of ultra-expensive drugs called biologics, which are used to fight such illnesses as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.

In the end, the AFL-CIO endorsed the pact, as did the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other major business groups.

Critics said they understood the renegotiated trade deal was an improvement over NAFTA, but they said it wasn’t enough. “American jobs will still flow to other countries,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.

The deal gave Democrats a chance to show constituents they weren’t focused solely on impeachment, particularly first-term lawmakers such as Reps. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., and Joe Cunningham, D-S.C. They represent districts won by Trump in 2016. “I promised the people of the low country I’d come to Washington to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress, the White House and anyone else necessary to find bipartisan, common-sense solutions to issues impacting our district,” Cunningham said during debate. He said the bills' passage ''is a major step in that direction.”

Republicans made clear that they weren’t going to allow for an easy pivot.  “The bipartisan nature of this deal that we are here discussing today cannot cover up what happened on this floor last night,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

Some Republicans also grumbled that Democrats took too long to get the agreement across the finish line, but many were quite happy with the result. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., said the pact reminded him of when he would write a letter to Santa, and it would be answered with most of the presents he wanted on Christmas morning.  “This is certainly one of those times when the letter to Santa Claus actually got answered,” Kelly said.

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