Dec 15, 2019

Mexicans throw 11th hour curveball at Trump's biggest trade deal

Pelosi with Democratic leaders

Nancy Pelosi and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal during a news conference on the USMCA trade agreement, Dec.10. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Democrats have a "tentative plan" to vote Thursday on the trade deal President Trump negotiated with Mexico and Canada to replace NAFTA, per a senior House Democratic aide, but Mexican officials are complicating those plans.

Driving the news: "Mexico's top trade negotiator plans to return to Washington ... to express his outrage over language in the U.S. bill to implement the new North American trade agreement," Politico's Sabrina Rodriguez reports.

  • "Mexico was blindsided by the inclusion of language in the implementing bill that would allow the Trump administration to deploy full-time diplomats to Mexico to make sure the country is upholding labor standards, Jesús Seade, Mexico's undersecretary for North America, said Saturday."

The big picture: Mexico has already ratified these changes to the deal. The nightmare scenario for Trump and Democratic leadership is that domestic pressures force the Mexican government to take drastic action, like saying they'll block U.S. inspectors from Mexican factories. That would severely complicate a deal that was set to easily pass Congress.

Between the lines: The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will probably still fly through the House at the end of this week. Trump has crafted a deal that no traditional Republican would have supported in the pre-Trump era, and Nancy Pelosi is keenly aware of that. She has jettisoned the promised process to ram the deal through before the end of the year.

  • It's also good politics for Pelosi to sandwich a Wednesday impeachment vote in between two governing votes: a Tuesday vote to fund the government and a Thursday vote to pass the USMCA.

The bottom line: Democrats who've worked on trade deals for decades say they doubt that any other Republican president in the foreseeable future would support a deal like the USMCA. The USMCA is a deal tailor-made for organized labor and protectionist Democrats. That Republicans are willing to vote for it is a testament to the awesome power Trump wields over his party.

  • Pelosi reportedly told her caucus that Democrats "ate their [Republicans'] lunch" on USMCA.
  • But the ensuing debate over whether she did in fact eat their lunch misses the point. Trump didn't care about traditional GOP trade priorities and he made Republicans irrelevant to the negotiations.
  • Trump correctly identified that Republicans would step in line, no matter what he decided. And leaving aside Pat Toomey, the lonely voice of free trade in the Republican Senate, Trump read his party right.

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