WASHINGTON — One day after impeaching President Donald Trump, the Democratic-led House passed one of his signature priorities, a rewrite of the 25-year-old free trade agreement he blames for shipping U.S. manufacturing jobs to Mexico.
A bill implementing terms of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement passed 385-41 Thursday with bipartisan support after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues won key concessions from an administration anxious to pass the trade deal before next year’s election season makes that task more difficult.
The agreement is projected to have only a modest impact on the economy. But it gives lawmakers from both parties the chance to support an agreement sought by farmers, ranchers and business owners anxious to move past the months of trade tensions that have complicated spending and hiring decisions.
The American Trucking Associations hailed the passage.
“Even during one of the most politically contentious times in our history, USMCA is proof that Washington isn’t completely broken,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “Bipartisanship — and perhaps more notably, a sense of duty — still lives. Speaker Pelosi and President Trump deserve equal praise for finding the common ground to see this important trade deal through for the good of our country.
“By the nature of our work, truckers know the significance of this victory. Cross-border trade with our neighbors has become a cornerstone of the American economy. Strengthening this relationship as USMCA does helps secure our economy’s foundation and ensures we will remain competitive in the global marketplace for decades to come.
“This vote signifies that good policy need not be a zero-sum political game. Even in today’s Washington, good things can still get done together. That spells hope for the American people.”
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association also supports the implementation of the USMCA. The negotiated USMCA deal creates a thorough review process to identify and remove Mexico-based carriers and operators that pose material economic harm to American truckers.
“For far too long, we have seen our members suffer from foreign companies taking away jobs and profits from drivers in the U.S.,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA president. “This will hopefully prevent Mexico-domiciled carriers that are exploiting our laws from operating on U.S. highways, which has significantly lowered wages for American drivers across numerous segments of trucking.”
Trump made tearing up the North American Free Trade Agreement a hallmark of his presidential run in 2016 as he tried to win over working-class voters in states such as Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The vote offers evidence that he followed through.
“We wouldn’t even be discussing USMCA if it were not for President Trump,” said Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo. “You can’t debate that.”
Until the vote, it was unclear how many Democrats will vote for the bill. Some said the agreement still doesn’t do enough to prevent U.S. jobs from relocating to Mexico, but it has won praise from Democrats who have routinely voted against prior trade agreements.
“I’ll probably get some flak from some of my friends back in Chicago,” said Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. “But I’m going to vote for this agreement because I believe that it moves us forward.”
The House Ways and Means Committee advanced the bill by voice vote Tuesday. If the House passes it as expected, the Senate will likely take it up when its members return from the holidays and after dealing with impeachment.
The original NAFTA phased out nearly all tariffs on goods produced and traded within North America. It was extraordinary because it linked two wealthy, developed countries with a poor, developing country. Since then, trade with Canada and Mexico has increased more rapidly than trade with most other countries.
Democrats for years have charged that NAFTA led to massive losses of high-paying manufacturing jobs in the U.S. as companies moved production to low-wage Mexico. Trump distinguished himself from free-trade Republicans in the presidential primary with his NAFTA-bashing rhetoric, and his administration got Canada and Mexico to negotiate a rewrite.