Jul 29, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Mnuchin says Pelosi has privately committed to a USMCA vote by October

Pelosi and Steven Mnuchin

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Photos: Mark Wilson; Nicholas Kamm via Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been telling colleagues that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has privately assured him she would allow a vote on the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) by October, according to 3 administration officials familiar with the internal conversations. Pelosi's office unequivocally denies that she gave Mnuchin any assurances on timing for a USMCA vote.

Why it matters: The USMCA — the trade deal that President Trump renegotiated to replace NAFTA — is the Trump administration's top legislative priority. Trump has signed the deal, but the law requires Congress to approve the trade deal on a yes or no vote. Pelosi leads the House and controls what legislation is voted on, meaning she has the power to kill the USMCA.

Behind the scenes: The Trump administration asked Pelosi to allow a vote on the USMCA as a side agreement to the budget deal, but she refused to put anything in writing, according to 2 sources familiar with the negotiations. Mnuchin told colleagues, however, that Pelosi made a verbal commitment to bringing up USMCA for a vote by October.

  • Mnuchin's colleagues say that in his telling, Pelosi did not commit to personally voting for the USMCA. But allowing a vote is all the Trump administration wants from the House speaker.
  • Administration officials who are tracking USMCA say they believe that if the House is allowed a vote, the trade deal would pass.

Yes, but: When we shared with Pelosi’s office our reporting on Mnuchin’s private comments to his colleagues and asked whether Pelosi had given any verbal assurances to the Treasury Secretary, Pelosi's deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill told Axios:

"This is absolutely not true. During the course of their negotiations, the Speaker made it very clear to Secretary Mnuchin that the USMCA was a separate matter.  The Speaker has stated repeatedly over the course of the last seven months of the House Democratic Majority that Democrats want to be on a path to yes on USMCA, but that Members’ concerns about enforcement, labor, prescription drugs and environment must be addressed. The substance will determine the timing."

When presented with this reporting, a Treasury Department spokesperson referred Axios to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, who is the administration’s point for USMCA negotiations. The Treasury spokesperson's full response did not include a denial of Axios’ reporting on Mnuchin's comments to his colleagues: "The administration continues to work in good faith with Congress to address areas of concern."

  • The USTR did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

The big picture: A group of 14 House Democrats sent a letter to Pelosi on Friday urging her to bring a vote by the end of the year on USMCA. As Axios wrote then — though no one should get too carried away by 14 Democratic signatures — the letter indicates there is Democratic support for Pelosi bringing the president's top legislative priority up for a vote.

  • Trump's top trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer has told lawmakers he's been encouraged by his USMCA discussions with Pelosi so far.
  • And Vice President Mike Pence has been doing speeches around the country, seeking to whip up Republican support for the USMCA and pressure Congress to pass the deal.
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