House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi cast doubt Thursday on the likelihood that the new North American trade pact could win congressional approval without changes to bolster its labor and environmental protections.
President Donald Trump’s top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, met with Pelosi for just over 30 minutes Thursday to discuss the new agreement, which will need Democratic support to give Trump a chance to sign it into law. The pact is already expected to face a fiery debate as some Democrats are already coming out in opposition to its labor and environmental provisions.
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“While there are positive things in this proposed trade agreement, it is just a list without real enforcement of the labor and environmental protections,” Pelosi, who is expected to become House speaker in the next Congress, said in a statement after the meeting.
The Pelosi-Lighthizer session comes as Trump has stepped up his pressure to get the new agreement turned into law, telling reporters on Saturday that he would formally notify Mexico and Canada of his intention to withdraw from the existing North American Free Trade Agreement in six months. There is debate as to whether Trump has the legal authority to take such a step, but the move could force lawmakers to act on the new deal, which Trump is calling the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.
A spokesperson for Pelosi said it was “disappointing but not surprising” that Trump would try to force Congress’ hand “instead of working constructively with Congress to improve his proposed agreement to actually protect and strengthen American workers.”
U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer declined to offer details following the meeting. He has previously indicated that the administration could make certain changes to the agreement’s text through implementing legislation that would address lawmakers’ concerns and win their support.
“I’ve been in discussions with a variety of Democratic leaders on those points and they’ll be very much involved in the process moving forward and will have an influence, a strong influence,” Lighthizer told reporters at the USMCA signing ceremony last week. “I want them not only to vote for it, I want them to be happy with the agreement.”
Lawmakers are also waiting “for Mexico to pass its promised law on the wages and working conditions of Mexican workers competing with American workers,” Pelosi said in the statement.
It remains far from certain that the agreement in its current form could pass both chambers. House Republicans have also criticized the deal for its inclusion of new provisions that aim to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex.
If the agreement remains on track, it will go to Congress next year for a simple up or down vote, with no amendments allowed under the fast-track law governing trade deals.
But House Democrats could also forgo fast-track rules to force changes to the deal. In 2008, House Democrats led by Pelosi voted to suspend the fast-track timeline on the U.S. trade deal with Colombia over lingering concerns about labor standards and violence in the South American country.