Share
June 10, 2019 11:15 AM, EDT

Democrats Hold Out on USMCA as Trump Walks Back Mexico Tariffs

Donald Trump President Donald Trump (Win McNamee/Bloomberg News)

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

President Donald Trump’s decision not to impose tariffs on Mexico removed one obstacle for Congress to approve his North American trade deal, but his administration has more work to do to smooth the final stages of the accord’s ratification.

Trump accepted Mexico’s offer of tougher immigration enforcement as sufficient to dissuade him from levying a 5% charge on all Mexican imports. The move June 7 deflated tensions with Mexico and, as far as Canada is concerned, clears a path for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement to move forward, Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau said June 9 on Bloomberg TV.

That leaves House Democrats as the last major stakeholders still to get on board. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision on when (and whether) the deal will get a vote depends on talks with the Trump administration to address Democrats’ concerns, according to a senior Democratic aide.

“We’re not ready,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said Sunday on Fox News. “The votes in the House are not there yet until these changes take place.’’

During last week’s uncertainty over trade with Mexico, most Democrats publicly separated USMCA deliberations from Trump’s tariff plan, which means that removing the tariff threat doesn’t necessarily clear the way for a new deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. Dingell said she wants changes to the agreement’s labor, environmental and enforcement provisions that would satisfy her skeptical colleagues.

Deciding against the Mexican tariffs does, however, help the president with his own party — especially in the Republican-led Senate.

Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa warned last week that the USMCA — Trump’s top legislative priority this year — would be in peril if the president went ahead with the Mexican tariffs.

House Republicans for weeks have said the revamped trade deal, which updates but doesn’t fundamentally alter the decades-old NAFTA, would pass the House if only Pelosi would put it on the floor. Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, a top member of GOP leadership, renewed that call June 7 after Trump said he won’t impose tariffs on Mexico, lauding the breakthrough that “puts us in a better position to make USMCA a reality.”

The lawmaker working groups that Pelosi appointed to negotiate with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer are beginning to drill down on the details of how to resolve Democrats’ outstanding issues, according to the aide, who asked not to be named when talking about internal discussions.

Pelosi has repeatedly said that her members “want to get to yes,” but only if the agreement resolves their doubts. Democrats have pushed Mexico to pass and swiftly implement labor reforms that would, among other things, allow workers there to vote for union representation with a closed ballot.