House Democrats working with the Trump administration on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement say a newly announced impeachment investigation into the president is unlikely to derail USMCA in Congress.
And the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), warned Democrats against mixing the two issues.
“If Democrats use impeachment proceedings as a basis to not act on policy that will directly benefit Americans like the USMCA or lowering prescription drug prices, that would prove they’re more interested in politics and opposing the president at all costs than serving the American people,” he said in a statement. “For my part, I’ll continue focusing on the issues that affect the everyday lives of Iowans. I hope my Democrat colleagues return to doing the same for their constituents.”
Asked by Inside U.S. Trade on Tuesday whether impeachment could have an impact on the speaker’s approach to USMCA, Grassley said it was not “even worth” talking about.
“I think impeachment is very much overblown, particularly now that he’s going to release these transcripts,” Grassley said, referring to Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that he would make public a transcript of a phone conversation he had with the president of Ukraine that is at the heart of the impeachment probe.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Tuesday announced the lower chamber would move forward with an official impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s conduct, including his request that the Ukrainian president investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
The announcement comes as a nine-member House working group assigned by Pelosi is ramping up talks with the administration about its lingering concerns with USMCA. Some members of the working group on Tuesday morning met with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to discuss a major issue for Democrats – the enforceability of the deal’s labor provisions. The working group is set to continue negotiations this week with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer
House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA), the working group leader, told reporters after meeting Trumka on Tuesday the impeachment investigation was “up to the parties that are involved” and that he did not see “for the moment” why impeachment might derail ratification efforts.
Ways & Means trade subcommittee Chairman Earl Blummenauer (D-OR) said the impeachment investigation and USMCA ratification were “separate tracks.”
“Not a problem,” Blumenauer, who oversees USMCA biologics talks with the administration, told Inside U.S. Trade.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) echoed Blumenauer, saying the two were separate issues. Gomez is playing a lead role in the labor talks with USTR.
Gomez, who attended the Trumka meeting, reaffirmed other working group members’ assertions that they were “all on the same page” as the AFL-CIO in their assessments of the Mexican government’s funding plans for labor reforms called for in USMCA.
“All of us have expressed that to Ambassador Lighthizer in one form or another,” Gomez said, adding that the USTR “shares that same concern that they need to put more resources into their labor reform.”
The co-chair of the pro-trade New Democrat Coalition, Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), said Congress would have to “walk and chew gum at the same time on issues of trade” amid impeachment efforts.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Tuesday he could not predict what impact impeachment proceedings might have on USMCA ratification efforts, then pivoted to what he deemed the central hurdle House Democrats and the administration had yet to resolve – the enforceability of the deal’s labor provisions.
“The big issue with USMCA is enforcement on the labor side – they still haven’t solved that issue no matter what,” Schumer told Inside U.S. Trade.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said he hoped impeachment wouldn’t derail USMCA. “There’s genuine bipartisan, bicameral, executive branch, legislative branch” interest in trying to “get to yes on USMCA,” he said, “and my hope is that we’ll succeed.”
Carper acknowledged that Pelosi has a “long list” of legislative priorities but said he was “sure” USMCA was on her list.
Senate Republicans – in line with the House and Senate Democrats who spoke with Inside U.S. Trade – said impeachment efforts should not impede USMCA ratification efforts.
“House Democrats need to separate out those issues,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said. “USMCA is about … a very, very important trade agreement and it should not be derailed. They need to move their focus back to the job at hand, and that’s taking care of the American people. This trade agreement would do exactly that.”
Impeachment won’t derail the administration’s push, Grassley (R-IA) contended earlier in the day, because “regardless of whether it’s impeachment or anything else, the president isn’t going to make a decision on [USMCA] – it’s going to be Pelosi.”
USMCA ratification is in Pelosi’s court, Grassley said, noting that the administration – at the urging of Grassley and other lawmakers – had not “forced” the issue by sending a USMCA implementing bill to Congress before Pelosi asked for it.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who serves on the Commerce manufacturing, trade, and consumer protection subcommittee, said impeachment should be left up the House’s panels of jurisdiction – and that USMCA should be brought up for a vote.
“I’ve had a concern since the day the Democrats won control of the House that it wasn’t ever going to be about effective legislation and moving our economy forward – that it’s going to be about investigation and impeachment and now that’s kind of being proven out. So yeah, I got a real concern,” Johnson said.
Despite his concern that impeachment might muddy ratification efforts, Johnson said he had been “pleasantly surprised” to hear from administration officials that Pelosi was negotiating in good faith. He suggested that was “mostly because there are a lot of members that come from districts that want to see good trading relationships with Canada and Mexico.”