Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a leading member of the Senate Finance Committee, and a group of GOP allies are pushing President Trump to move a newly negotiated trade deal with Canada and Mexico through Congress before Democrats take over the House next year.
Toomey said the Trump administration needed to submit the final text of the deal to Congress by Friday if lawmakers are to have any chance of implementing it before Democrats assume the House majority.
Congress must wait 30 days after the administration submits the text before it can vote for the agreement under expedited rules set forth by Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).
Even if Trump sends the agreement to Congress by Friday, the soonest lawmakers could vote on implementing legislation would be Dec. 30.
If Trump fails to meet the deadline, the next Democratic Speaker — likely Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a longtime skeptic of free trade — will decide whether the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, known as the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), will get a vote in the new Congress.
“Nancy Pelosi does not have a long track record of ratifying Republican free-trade agreements. We have seen this movie before. The Colombia agreement is a great example. She had it, TPA was in force, and she promptly passed a rule killing TPA. They never took it up. Never. She was the Speaker for years and it got ratified when she was no longer the Speaker,” Toomey said Wednesday morning.
Toomey was referring to the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which was signed in November 2006 when George W. Bush was president.
Congress didn’t pass that trade deal until after Republicans took back control of the House in 2010.
Toomey noted that the South Korea trade agreement suffered a similar fate. It was signed in April 2007, when Bush was still president, but the Democratic controlled Congress never took it up.
Congress finally ratified the South Korea deal in 2011, after Republicans won back control of the House.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last month there would not be enough time in the lame-duck session to debate the new trade deal, which would replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, before the end of the month.
“That will be a next-year issue because the process we have to go through doesn’t allow that to come up before the end of this year,” McConnell told Bloomberg Television in mid-October.
But that was before Democrats recaptured the House in the Nov. 6 election. Now, Toomey and a group of allies including Sens. Rob Portman(R-Ohio), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) want it to reach a vote before New Year’s Day.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), the incoming Senate GOP whip, said Wednesday that he would support coming back to Washington after Christmas to get it done.
“If we can get that done, I’d be willing to do it,” he said.
Toomey and 11 other Senate Republicans, including Portman, Cruz and Daines, sent a letter to Trump on Nov. 20 urging him to send a copy of the USMCA deal before the end of the month.
“We are concerned that if the Administration waits until next year to send to Congress a draft implementing bill, passage of the USMCA as negotiated will become significantly more difficult,” they wrote.
These free-trade Republicans have concerns with the new Canada-Mexico trade deal, but they’re willing to work on changes in the implementing legislation that would increase GOP support for it.
“If you choose to pursue consideration of USMCA before the end of the 115th Congress, we commit to working with you in a consultative manner to draft implementing legislation that could win our votes, as well as a majority in the House and Senate,” they wrote.
Senate Republicans will press for several changes to the deal, such as the elimination of a provision that would sunset the agreement after 16 years and a curtailment of the administration’s authority to impose new tariffs under Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act.
Toomey said he would vote against the trade deal in its current form but hopes it can be modified to be more pro-trade in the next several weeks.
Toomey on Wednesday warned that Democrats will likely sit on the trade accord, which would then leave NAFTA in place but also heighten the likelihood that Trump threatens to pull out of NAFTA altogether without a replacement deal.
Pulling out of NAFTA without a new accord to facilitate trade in North America could roil the economy.
“I’m not aware of any prominent elected Democrat in either house that has come out and endorsed this. The environmentalist groups have all panned it. Organized labor has said they have all kinds of problems with it,” he said. “Given that reality, I think there’s a high risk at least that this is not going to be a priority for Speaker Pelosi.”