WASHINGTON—In his second day of testimony on Capitol Hill June 19, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urged lawmakers to help him get the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade deal over the finish line.
“This is tens of millions of jobs, it is $1.4 trillion worth of the economy, it’s a huge improvement—nobody disagrees with that,” he said during a House Ways and Means hearing.
The longer Congress delays, he warned, the more likely something unexpected will derail the process.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during a Christian Science Monitor event that morning that House Democrats would not be holding it up.
“There are those on the other side who say we’re holding it up. We’re not. As I said, our people want a better NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement],” she said, referring to the USMCA’s predecessor.
She acknowledged, however, that House Democrats are unhappy with the current enforcement mechanisms in the agreement around the environment, labor, and pharmaceuticals.
Lighthizer said that each of those issues could be resolved in half a day if he could sit down with the right people.
“I just need to get somebody I can sit down there that will say ‘yes, this is enough,’” he said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing the day before.
Pelosi has heard his concerns, he says, and arranged for a group of representatives to work with him.
He says he’s hopeful that “substantial” progress can be made in the next few weeks. But it’s unclear when Congress will actually vote on the agreement.
On my way to Iowa – just heard nearly 1,000 agriculture groups signed a letter urging Congress to approve the USMCA. Our Patriot Farmers & rural America have spoken! Now Congress must do its job & support these great men and women by passing the bipartisan USMCA Trade Agreement!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 11, 2019
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J) accused the administration of “trying to drive this thing across the finish line 100 mph,” and warned Lighthizer that “the right deal for America needs to come under the speed limit.”
“If Congress can’t look at over every inch, we’re not giving the green light,” he warned.
Earlier in his testimony, Lighthizer objected to the characterization that the administration was trying to push the deal through without proper oversight.
“The bill has been public and we’ve been in negotiations for nine months. So the suggestion that somehow that’s rushing—I guess would push back against that,” he said. “I don’t believe that waiting nine months to the point where you can get improvements is rushing anything.”
When Pelosi was asked in the morning about her legislative priorities before the August recess, the trade deal was not on the list.
The same day, Mexico’s Senate ratified the trade pact, which Lighthizer called in a statement a “crucial step forward.”
“The USMCA is the strongest and most advanced trade agreement ever negotiated. It is good for the United States, Mexico, and Canada in a way that truly benefits our workers, farmers, and businesses,” he said. “I congratulate President López Obrador and the Mexican Senate and the Mexican Senate on this historic achievement.”
Congratulations to President Lopez Obrador — Mexico voted to ratify the USMCA today by a huge margin. Time for Congress to do the same here!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2019
President Trump chimed in on Twitter that it was “time to do the same here!”