Congress Running Out of Time to Influence Trump on NAFTA Deal

There are few working days left before the White House hits a Sepember 30 deadline to file a renegotiated NAFTA to Congress. Succeed or fail, it’s a tough road ahead.

President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Sept. 11, 2018, 8 p.m.

Time is running out for the Trump administration to seal a deal with Canada to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement. But the White House also needs Congress on board, and the Hill may prove to be an equally difficult negotiating partner.

Canadian and U.S. trade officials resumed their talks this week toward crafting a new NAFTA, with the pressure on to complete a deal, after the U.S. and Mexico reached a revised, bilateral agreement in late August. Congress has been observing the talks closely, but some key GOP lawmakers have, so far, declined to openly demand that President Trump bring them a deal that includes Canada.

Last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady didn’t say whether they would reject a bilateral deal with Mexico, with Ryan explaining that he would need more details on the pact.

“I want to see this run its course before making a judgment on that,” Ryan told reporters at a press conference last Wednesday.

Democrats didn’t hold back, however.

“The president doesn’t have a deal, he doesn’t have a plan, and he doesn’t even have the power to follow through on his empty threats,” Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden said in a statement after the president asserted that he could withdraw from the trade agreement without the approval of Congress.

Although Democrats are vocalizing more, there is unease on both sides of the aisle about the administration potentially excluding Canada from the trade deal. The deadline for the White House to submit new NAFTA language to Congress is Sept. 30, meaning that lawmakers likely must know whether Canada is on board by then.

Per congressional rules, Trump officially notified Capitol Hill last year of his plans to renegotiate NAFTA, not to strike separate deals with Canada and Mexico. If he brings a Mexico-only deal to Capitol Hill, he could face a challenge to Congress's ability to expedite the agreement with an up-or-down vote and no amendments—known as Trade Promotion Authority—and sparking a showdown with lawmakers only weeks before the midterms.

In late August, the White House gave Congress the mandatory 90-day notification that the administration would be signing a revised NAFTA with Mexico and Canada, but only if Canada “is willing.” The timing was crucial, because it allows for the three countries to finalize a deal before Mexico’s new administration takes power in December.

Still, questions remain about whether the U.S. can reach a deal with Canada before the full language is due Sept. 30.

“The notification at the end of August said Mexico and ‘maybe Canada,’” said William Reinsch, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former congressional staffer on trade and other issues. “That opens the door to a debate over whether that’s basically a bait-and-switch or whether it meets the terms of last year’s notification of intent.”

Three key points remain unresolved between the U.S. and Canada. First, Canada says it requires protection for its publishing and broadcasting industries, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying safeguards from buyouts by U.S. media companies are critical to preserving Canadian culture. Canada also says it will not sign a deal that doesn't preserve the resolution system for anti-dumping disputes, which the U.S. and Mexico agreed to scrap in their August announcement. And the U.S. wants Canada to end protections for certain dairy products and subsidies for dairy farmers.

The White House said Monday that it hopes to reach a three-country deal soon.

“We continue to have ongoing conversations with the Canadians and are still hopeful that we'll come to an agreement with them,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.

Any NAFTA agreement would likely have to wait until next year for final congressional approval because the International Trade Commission must still perform an economic analysis of the deal, Reinsch added. That leaves open the possibility of a Democratic House majority pushing back against a pact. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has called a Mexico-only deal “woefully incomplete.”

But Congress could make its will known before the Sept. 30 deadline. One option would be to send a message to the administration though a resolution, Reinsch said.

Last week, Ways and Means Democrats pushed a resolution through the committee asking the White House for documents detailing its trade strategy for China and for background on how the administration chose its targets for steel and aluminum tariffs. Brady opposed the move, but Trade Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert—who is retiring at the end of this term—sided with the Democrats, and the panel reported the resolution out of committee “without recommendation.”

That sets up a potential vote in the full House—if Ryan chooses—and signals a shot across the bow from Congress over the president's management of trade disputes.

Reinsch said the same scenario could play out later this month in an effort to press the administration to ease some of its demands on Canada. If Democrats introduced a resolution in the coming days demanding that the president include Canada in any deal submitted at the end of this month, it could send a similar message, Reinsch said.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if either the House or the Senate Democrats try to do that in this case, on procedural grounds, not arguing that it’s a bad agreement with Mexico but arguing that [the administration] didn’t follow the rules,” Reinsch said.

Another scenario has the Trump administration blowing past the Sept. 30 deadline to submit language of a full NAFTA deal to Congress, submitting the Canada half of the deal after talks conclude. Congress may take that offer, because the end result is what many lawmakers want anyway. But again, it’s up to Congress to decide whether to accept such an arrangement, said Bruce Hirsh, founder of Tailwind Global Strategies and a former U.S. trade negotiator.

“It potentially would leave the agreement vulnerable to a point of order,” Hirsh said. “But at the end of the day, this is about Congress asserting its own prerogatives, and if, in fact, Congress is satisfied with the ultimate deal, then it would likely not be a problem. But at least there’s the potential for a problem, and Congress would really have to decide just how much they care about the rules that they themselves laid out.”

What We're Following See More »
TECH STOCKS DRAG DOWN MARKET
Stocks Drop Sharply In Pre-Holiday Trading
43 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"The Dow Jones industrial average dropped nearly 550 points" in opening trading Tuesday, as "the weeks-long swoon in technology stocks deepened and dragged other sectors — including retail — with it. All three major U.S. indexes "were likely to see their 2018 gains erased if the market decline holds through the session. The tech-heavy Nasdaq is now firmly in correction territory and at a seven-month low. It is down 15 percent from its recent peak ... The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index dropped 1.5 percent, with around 40 percent of the index in correction territory."

Source:
SHE USED A PRIVATE ADDRESS
House Democrats To Investigate Ivanka's Email Use
54 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are planning to look into Ivanka Trump’s use of a personal email account to determine whether she violated federal law. The committee is planning to look into whether Trump complied with the presidential records act and federal records act. The Washington Post reported Monday that Trump used a personal account last year "to correspond with White House staffers, her assistants and Cabinet officials," but a spokesperson said those emails "have since been forwarded to her official government account in order to comply with the federal records law."

Source:
PENTAGON'S TARGET: DECEMBER 15
Troops Deployed To Border Will Return Home
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The 5,800 troops who were rushed to the southwest border amid President Donald Trump’s pre-election warnings about a refugee caravan will start coming home as early as this week — just as some of those migrants are beginning to arrive." Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the general overseeing the deployment, said that the troops had "completed the missions for which they were sent" and should be home by Christmas. "Democrats and Republicans have criticized the deployment as a ploy by the president to use active-duty military forces as a prop to try to stem Republican losses in this month’s midterm elections."

Source:
COMPLICATES MATH FOR PELOSI
16 Democrats Come Out Against Pelosi Speaker Bid
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A rebellious faction of House Democrats released a letter Monday vowing to mount a coup and derail Nancy Pelosi's bid to become House speaker, the first major warning shot from the group of detractors who are trying to stop the powerful leader's bid in the new Democratic majority." Rep. Marcia Fudge, who has considered challenging Pelosi for the position, did not sign. Pelosi was "making calls to members from San Francisco on Monday," and continues to project confidence that she has the requisite 218 votes.

Source:
MUST ALLOW CLAIMS BETWEEN PORTS OF ENTRY
Court Blocks Trump's Asylum Ban
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A federal judge barred the Trump administration from refusing asylum to immigrants who cross the southern border illegally." President Trump has "said an asylum ban was necessary to stop what he’s attacked as a national security threat. But in his ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar agreed with legal groups that immediately sued, arguing that U.S. immigration law clearly allows someone to seek asylum even if they enter the country between official ports of entry." The ruling will remain in effect for one month barring an appeal.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login