- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Senate Finance Committee advanced President Trump’s rewrite of the North American trade deal Tuesday, moving a campaign-year achievement closer to ratification even as the full chamber grapples with whether to remove the president.

Chairman Chuck Grassley marshaled a 25-3 vote in support of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or “USMCA,” which is designed to open up markets for American farmers and ranchers, beef up labor standards and spur production in the automobile sector while avoiding onerous tariffs.

“Today is years in the making. President Trump ran on updating the former North American trade deal. Soon, the entire country will benefit as a result,” said Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican.

Many Republicans hailed the pact as a boon for Mr. Trump’s trade agenda, as he seals or negotiates other deals in Asia and Europe. Democrats said they fine-tuned an earlier draft of the USMCA to their liking.

Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, rejected the deal because he said it would diminish trade instead of promoting it, while Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, said parts of the energy sector wouldn’t benefit from a provision involving disputes between investors and nations. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, said he gave the USMCA a thumbs down because it did not do enough to tackle climate change.

All three North American nations must approve the deal for it to take effect.

The House voted to approve the deal in December, sending it to the Senate, though the timing of a floor vote could depend on when the chamber receives articles of impeachment from across the Capitol.

Also, a few additional committees have jurisdiction over the trade deal, due to arcane Senate rules, though Mr. Grassley said they will likely dispatch with the agreement quickly.

Mr. Trump sees his overhaul of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, as fulfillment of his campaign pledge to tilt trade deals back in favor of U.S. workers. He’s eager to tout the bipartisan win on the 2020 trail.

“He promised that it would command broad support, and I think President Trump has delivered,” Mr. Grassley said.

House Democrats delayed a vote on the deal until they secured key concessions from the administration, such as making it easier for workers to call out Mexican factories that violate labor standards to undercut American workers.

“The enforcement process will take a fraction of the time it has in the past. No more forcing American businesses and workers to wait around for action while trade cheats rip them off,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat.

Some Democrats went further, saying Mr. Trump deserves less credit than AFL-CIO labor leader Richard Trumka for the deal that reconfigures free trade with Canada and Mexico.

“This is a far cry from building a wall. So in a lot of ways, this bill is a lot more Trumka than it is Trump,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat.

Mr. Toomey has been a vocal outlier amid the bipartisan push to approve the fine-tuned deal. He said North American trade needed to be modernized but that Mr. Trump focused too heavily on the trade deficit with Mexico in crafting USMCA.

He said the deal wouldn’t spur much economic growth, while making cars more expansive and limiting trade overall.

“It’s the first time we are ever going to go backwards on a trade agreement,” Mr. Toomey said.

The House approved the deal Dec. 19, less than 24 hours after voting to impeach Mr. Trump over his interactions with Ukraine.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t released the articles of impeachment to the Senate yet, leading to confusion over when a trial on Mr. Trump’s removal will take place.

Senate leaders previously said full approval of the USMCA would wait until after the trial, but scheduling is in limbo, as Mrs. Pelosi determines her timing and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decides whether there is floor time for the deal vis-a-vis impeachment.

Mr. Grassley said under Senate rules, impeachment takes priority, though he’d like to see the USMCA approved as soon as possible.

“The sooner it gets done for the good of the economy, the better,” he said.

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