Pence Targets Freshman Dems to Press Pelosi on USMCA
It is the current top legislative priority of the White House, so Vice President Mike Pence has been dispatched across the country in an attempt to force vulnerable House Democrats to hurry along ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.
Chances of success are diminishing as the political pressures that come with a looming presidential election increase. Time, Pence told reporters at the end of July, was already running out.
“The clock is ticking. Canada has already begun to make it through the legislative process, Mexico has already begun making changes that we asked for,” the vice president said. “We believe if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brings it to the floor it will pass.”
Pence has been traveling to make the NAFTA replacement a reality, visiting Minnesota, New Mexico and Utah in recent months to put pressure on freshman Democrats in the House of Representatives.
“We’ve got to get it done. It’s why I asked you to come out here, because the clock is ticking,” Pence told workers at a hydraulic fracturing facility last week. “And I figured the best place to turn up the heat on the USMCA was in the heart of New Mexico.”
Pence made certain to call out that state’s Rep. Xochitl Torres Small and later Rep. Ben McAdams in Utah. But it isn’t so much of a play for House seats as a push for legislation with bipartisan support.
“We recognize that for Speaker Pelosi to bring this to the floor, it has to be in the interest of her members and that is why the vice president is making the case that this is beneficial to the residents of many Democratic districts,” Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, told RealClearPolitics.
The administration argument behind the trade deal is a binary one. If Pelosi doesn’t bring the bill up for consideration, Short said the speaker and her caucus will essentially be “telling their constituents they are happier with NAFTA than USMCA.”
With control of the House legislative schedule, Pelosi can kill the USMCA bill at any time. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had sparked hope that death by neglect wouldn’t happen when he told colleagues that the speaker assured him a vote would come by October, a claim that her office quickly swatted down.
“The speaker has stated repeatedly over the course of the last seven months … 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,” a Pelosi spokesman told Axios. “The substance will determine the timing.”
Drew Hammill, deputy chief of staff for Pelosi, reiterated to RCP that “Democrats have a variety of concerns about the USMCA” and pointed to the ongoing efforts of a working group the speaker commissioned on the issue.
For Republicans, there is fear that the party will use its control of the lower chamber to prevent the White House from chalking up a win before Election Day.
“If we were absolutely confident,” Short told RCP, “we wouldn’t be doing the travel that we are doing, so we think there needs to be additional attention brought to it.
“Having said that, we do think, at the end of the day, we will get a vote on this,” he continued, “and that is because, again, if there is not a vote, in essence what Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats are saying is that they are more comfortable with NAFTA.”
At times, Pence has seen results from that pressure play.
“I’ve called on leadership to bring USMCA for a vote this year,” McAdams tweeted after the vice president’s visit, “and I hope we can resolve any outstanding differences to get this agreement across the finish line.”
It is the United States and Canada that are lagging, though. Leaders from the three countries involved signed the deal last November, and while Mexican legislators quickly approved it, lawmakers in Ottawa and Washington are still quibbling.
President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried jump-starting approval efforts last week.
“Quite frankly, around the table there's a lot of people wanting to make trade deals with each other,” Trudeau said at the G7 Summit before adding that the U.S. and Canada have a deal that’s “good for our workers, good for our citizens, good for the middle class.”
The prize is a big one, if Pence and the administration are successful. The International Trade Commission estimates that an approved trade deal would increase gross domestic product by $68.2 billion and create 176,000 new jobs in the United States.