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Capitol Senate

Senate passes USMCA, giving Trump a win before impeachment trial

Jan. 17, 2020
The Senate approved President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement on Thursday, handing the president a major political win on the same day senators will be sworn in as jurors in his impeachment trial.

By Erik Wasson

(Bloomberg) – The Senate approved President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement on Thursday, handing the president a major political win on the same day senators will be sworn in as jurors in his impeachment trial.

The Nafta overhaul, Trump’s top legislative priority for the past year, cleared the Senate on an 89-10 vote and now heads to the president for his signature. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement passed the House in December on a bipartisan 385-41 vote the day after the Democratic-led chamber voted to impeach Trump.

The Senate vote moved in tandem with the impeachment process, coming just a few hours before Chief Justice John Roberts is sworn in to preside over the trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell applauded the trade deal as a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation.

“A major win for our country. A major win for the Trump administration. A major win for those of us who are ready to move past this season of toxic political noise and get back to doing even more of the American people’s business,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, finally got behind the trade agreement in December after more than a year of wrangling with the Trump administration over changes to provisions regarding labor, the environment, pharmaceuticals and the overall enforcement of the deal.

The vote split the two progressive candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president: Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren voted for the deal while Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders voted against it.

Climate concerns

Sanders said earlier this week that he opposed the USMCA in part because it isn’t strong enough on climate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also cited climate concerns as the reason he voted against the deal.

“Despite the fact that it includes very good labor provisions, I am voting against USMCA because it does not address climate change, the greatest threat facing the planet,” Schumer said in a statement before the vote.

The two other Democratic senators who are presidential candidates, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet, voted in favor of the USMCA.

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey was the only Republican who voted against the agreement. He previously said he was concerned about the new wage requirements created for the auto industry, among other market interventions.

McConnell initially said the Senate wouldn’t act on the USMCA until it had finished with Trump’s impeachment trial, but Pelosi’s decision to delay sending the impeachment articles to the Senate created a window for the vote this week. The Senate Finance Committee and six other panels rushed to approve the deal since lawmakers returned from their holiday recess last week.

Economic growth

Passing this revision of the North America Free Trade Agreement gives Trump a victory to tout in his election-year State of the Union address scheduled for Feb. 4. While the USMCA is projected to add just 0.35% to GDP after six years, signing this agreement and the first phase of a China trade deal will relieve some economic uncertainty, helping Trump’s pitch to voters based on the strength of the U.S. economy.

For Democrats from narrowly divided or Republican-leaning districts, the USMCA allows them to show constituents that they’re working with the president and doing more than impeaching him. They have highlighted the labor enforcement provisions as a model for future free trade agreements.

The Mexican Senate already approved the deal, so with Trump’s signature, Canada becomes the only country that hasn’t yet ratified the pact.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government will move forward on ratification when parliament reconvenes in Ottawa later this month, but the speed of its passage will depend on opposition lawmakers, a Canadian government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Trudeau lost his parliamentary majority in an election last fall, but the deal is still likely to pass.

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