Oct 3, 2019 - Politics & Policy

The trade deal that might survive impeachment

A hand holding a shipping container by a fine string

The war over impeachment has hastened House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s determination to approve a trade deal with Mexico and Canada, making it the one thing most likely to get done this year, lawmakers and their aides tell Axios.

Why it matters: Democratic lawmakers need something to bring home to their constituents ahead of 2020 — especially those in vulnerable districts. And while Pelosi has said she is committed to passing several different proposals, the USMCA trade deal is the most realistic and urgent, Hill sources say.

The state of play: Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), lawmakers in the USMCA working group and others are meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico on Tuesday to discuss the deal, Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), a member of the working group, told Axios.

  • "Sometimes a good crisis creates more opportunity," Gomez said of the impeachment inquiry. "And I do believe that we have an opportunity to move as quickly as possible to negotiate the changes that are needed to get to yes."
  • "I remain optimistic that we can work with [United States Trade Representative Robert] Lighthizer to get it right and to get to yes," Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) told Axios in a statement.
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive vice president and chief policy officer Neil Bradley, a vocal advocate for getting USMCA done, told Axios he thinks the trade deal will be passed by Thanksgiving.

The big picture: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who had not supported impeachment in the past, told Axios that USMCA is especially important for him and his colleagues in border districts. In his conversations with constituents in Texas this week, he said "not one single person brought up the impeachment inquiry." They wanted to know about trade.

  • “With all the fighting and chaos in Washington, everyone wants a win to point to. I hope that win can be USMCA," Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.), whose district saw nearly 90 dairy farms close in the past decade, told Axios.

If Pelosi fails, Republicans have more ammunition to scorch House Democrats for being impeachment obstructionists.

  • "She does have a way to redeem herself," a Senate GOP aide told Axios. "Trade will be the first test. But if she botches it on USMCA, then it'll reinforce every evil line coming from the campaign and the White House."

Democratic aides also said they were optimistic about passing legislation to address high drug prices along with USMCA. House Democrats will almost certainly pass a drug pricing bill.

  • The bigger question is whether anything can become law, and whether it can happen before the end of the year, per Axios' health care reporter Caitlin Owens.

What to watch: The ongoing messaging battle. Democrats continue to insist that they can both impeach the president and pass serious legislation. Meanwhile, Trump and Republican leaders are already publicly questioning Democrats' ability to do that.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that Neil Bradley is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s executive vice president (not Neil Herrington).

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