Senate to vote on Trump trade deal

senate to vote on trade deal

Senators of both parties are expected to come together Thursday morning to pass the Trump administration’s foremost legislative priority — the revised North American Free Trade Agreement — with the historic impeachment trial of President Donald Trump imminent.

“We anticipate the Senate will finish the USMCA tomorrow and send this landmark trade deal to President Trump for his signature,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor Wednesday night after the chamber had received the articles of impeachment from the House.

Among other changes, the deal includes new provisions for digital commerce, implements more stringent rules of origin for auto parts and includes new minimum wage requirements for certain workers in the auto manufacturing sector.

It was signed by the three countries’ leaders in November 2018, but the text was later changed after months of negotiations between the Trump administration and House Democrats. The new version enshrined additional labor protections and got rid of controversial patent protections for biologic drugs.

While Trump has argued that NAFTA was “perhaps the worst trade deal ever made,” the trade agreement enjoys broad support among Senate Republicans, who are now positioned to pass a new version of the deal, including policies embraced by Democrats and backed by the famously trade-skeptical AFL-CIO, the largest labor union in the United States.

But the GOP has remained largely behind Trump. Only two Republicans voted against the rebranded US-Mexico-Canada Agreement when it passed the House overwhelmingly in December. And Senate Republicans who have questioned some aspects of the agreement, such as its sunset provision, broadly say they will still support it because the deal will bring stability for American workers.

“It is a good agreement. It is not a perfect agreement,” Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said during the Finance Committee’s hearing on the deal.

Democrats are also expected to largely support the agreement when it comes to a vote Thursday. But some, like Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, plan to vote against it. Whitehouse said the environmental protections in the deal are not strong enough.

In the Senate, the parliamentarian required the bill to pass through several committees with an up or down vote before reaching a full vote. The last of those, the Foreign Relations Committee, voted to advance the deal Thursday.

Final Senate passage of the bill will be the culmination of years of arduous negotiations and work. Throughout the process, many lawmakers and lobbyists doubted ratification would ever happen, especially in a divided Congress.

During the Senate Finance Committee’s hearing on the USMCA implementing legislation, Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and longtime supporter of the deal who helped shepherd it to ratification, quipped that the effort to pass the agreement had “tested my patience at times.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, said when the deal between House Democrats and the Trump administration was announced that negotiations had often gotten heated, joking that he and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer probably set a world record for how many times they had hung up the phone on each other.

“There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said at the same news conference.

But some lawmakers who support free trade disagree: Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, long one of the most vocal Republican opponents of the USMCA, argued against it on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.

He slammed the new requirements for auto manufacturers and ridiculed the 16-year sunset provision.

“The default setting is for this thing to go away,” he said, noting that no trade deal the US has agreed to in the past has included a sunset provision.