Several hours later, Pelosi described a much different process, saying she was awaiting final decisions from Trump’s U.S. trade representative after months of negotiations.
“We are within range of a substantially improved agreement for America’s workers,” Pelosi said. “Now, we need to see our progress in writing from the Trade Representative for final review.”
The discordant characterizations come as Democratic lawmakers have said they are very close to finalizing negotiations that would allow Congress to vote on the deal that Trump secured with Canada and Mexico last year. Revising NAFTA has been one of Trump’s top agenda items, and Democrats have shown much more willingness to participate in the talks because some of the changes are popular with their voters.
Pelosi’s statement appeared designed to put pressure on the Trump administration following months of secretive negotiations on a new pact to replace the 25-year-old NAFTA. The negotiations between Pelosi, Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), and U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer accelerated in recent days even as Democrats proceeded with public impeachment hearings against Trump.
During Trump’s remarks, he appeared to discount the possibility that Democrats would ever act to approve the deal.
“She’s incapable of moving it,” he said before a meeting with the prime minister of Bulgaria. “It looks like she can’t. Everybody knows it’s a great deal. She knows it’s a great deal; she said it. … She keeps saying she wants to get it done, but we’re talking about many, many months sitting on her desk, no votes.”
Trump offered no evidence that labor unions had ordered Pelosi not to approve the deal.
“House Democrats have insisted that hard-working Americans need more from the USMCA than just the same broken NAFTA with better language but no real enforcement,” Pelosi said Monday. “The original draft of the new NAFTA agreement, while promising in some regard, still left American workers exposed to losing their jobs to Mexico, included unacceptable provisions to lock in high prescription drug prices, and fell short of key environmental standards.”
Lighthizer’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pelosi has said she hopes the new deal will serve as the template for future trade agreements, offering strong new protections for workers. She has been under pressure from some moderates and freshman lawmakers in the Democratic caucus who want to show they can make progress on substantive issues even with impeachment proceedings underway.
Final sticking points have involved how the deal would be enforced, and particularly whether Mexico has the budget and capabilities to enforce reforms to its own labor laws that would prevent more U.S. jobs from moving over the border to the south.
Passage of the new trade pact would represent a major political win for Trump heading into the 2020 elections. He frequently criticized NAFTA while running for president in 2016, calling it the “worst trade deal ever” and threatening to withdraw from it entirely. That threat alarmed Republicans and business groups, and Trump pulled back from making the threat as his administration entered into serious negotiations with the Democrats on replacing it.
For their part, Democrats have been holding out for wins in the deal so they could trumpet it as a triumph of their own and a boon to their voters.
Lighthizer, the president’s chief trade negotiator, has called the pact the “strongest, most momentous agreement in U.S. history” and promised that it would “help stop the outflow of manufacturing jobs and return many to the United States.”
Despite the administration’s sales pitch, the new agreement is expected to have a modest overall impact on the economy. But it would reshape North American auto production as the industry is gearing up for major investments in autonomous and electric vehicle development.
In a 379-page study released earlier this year, the International Trade Commission concluded that the USMCA would increase U.S. output by just 0.35 percent and create just 176,000 new jobs — effectively, a rounding error in a 152 million worker labor force.
The study said the greatest economic gains would come from the elimination of “uncertainty,” which administration critics blame the president for creating with his erratic trade policy in the first place.
Automakers would face the biggest changes once the new agreement takes effect. The USMCA requires more made-in-the-USA content and mandates that 40 percent of each vehicle be produced by workers earning $16 per hour — a provision that is likely to draw jobs away from lower-wage Mexican workers.
In a nod toward the digital economy that has sprung up in the quarter-century since NAFTA was inked, the new deal guarantees the free flow of data among the three trading partners. That’s a long-sought goal for banks, airlines, online retailers and entertainment companies.
It also limits an existing procedure for companies to settle disputes with the three governments, which the ITC report says will discourage U.S. investment in Mexico and increase investment in U.S. manufacturing and mining.
The administration says its estimates of the deal’s effects are more positive than the ITC’s.
But other independent assessments have been more critical. An International Monetary Fund study earlier this year said the USMCA would reduce trade among the three North American neighbors, have a “negligible” effect on economic output and fail to bring auto jobs back to the United States.