A day after Trump impeachment, House passes landmark USMCA trade agreement

Democrats announced a deal with the White House last week.

December 19, 2019, 6:16 PM

The House on Thursday passed a landmark trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico that Republican and Democratic lawmakers, union officials, and the White House hailed as one that would bring jobs to American workers.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, passed overwhelmingly by a 385-41 vote. The Senate was expected to ratify the deal next year.

It was a surprising flash of bipartisanship one day following the president’s impeachment.

“As the President promised, the agreement is a significant achievement in modernizing and rebalancing our trade relationship with Canada and Mexico, delivering a more level playing field for American workers, generating American jobs, and bolstering our competitiveness abroad," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

PHOTO: Aerial view of cargo trucks lining up to cross to the United States near the US-Mexico border at Otay Mesa crossing port in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on April 4, 2019.
Aerial view of cargo trucks lining up to cross to the United States near the US-Mexico border at Otay Mesa crossing port in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on April 4, 2019.
Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images

The trade pact is a revamped version of the 25-year-old North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA), which encouraged trade among the three countries. President Donald Trump, though, blamed it for shipping manufacturing jobs to Mexico, where wages are lower, and promised voters a deal that would create a more even playing field.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle hailed the revamped deal as beneficial for farmers and ranchers in particular.

“When I think about what this does for market access -- breaking down barriers -- this helps our farmers,” said Republican Rep. Darin LaHood, whose Illinois district is a major producer of corn and soybeans.

Democrats also took credit, pointing to provisions they added to the deal, including a new enforcement mechanism to prevent worker exploitation.

“I don’t think this will bring back all the jobs that we’ve lost here in the United States, but over time, I hope the new labor standards and the enforcement mechanisms we negotiated will help raise wages in Mexico, reducing U.S. corporation incentive to outsource jobs,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif.

Republicans questioned the timing of the USMCA vote so close to impeachment. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy alleged that Pelosi was withholding the trade deal – negotiated a year ago – and only allowing a vote because Trump’s impeachment was so unpopular.

“The only reason she finally relented is because of the unpopularity of impeachment itself,” McCarthy said.

Pelosi has denied this, insisting that the administration’s initial proposal was substandard when it came to enforcement issues, as well as environmental standards, and that these sticking points had to be addressed with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. She called the revised version on track to pass Congress “infinitely better” and said it just happened to come together at the same time as impeachment.

“It’s a victory for America’s workers,” she said at a Tuesday news conference.

Labor Federation President Richard Trumka said the deal was "far from perfect" and isn't a solution for outsourcing or inequality.

"But there is no denying that the trade rules in America will now be fairer because of our hard work and perseverance," Trumka said in a statement. "Working people have created a new standard for future trade negotiations."

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