- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2020

Senate Republicans are working to approve President Trump’s North American trade deal so it is ready for a floor vote, especially if House Democrats prolong a pending impeachment trial.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday that if she doesn’t transmit the impeachment charges to the upper chamber to begin the trial next week, they’ll move forward with the landmark trade negotiation.

Under past precedent, the impeachment trial cannot occur in the Senate until the speaker turns over the charges. On Thursday afternoon, Senate Republicans said they were confident that this would happen next week, although nothing was clinched and Republicans continued their trade-bill contingency planning.

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“We will operate on the assumption that House Democrats are too embarrassed to move forward,” the Kentucky Republican said on the chamber floor.

His comments echo Vice President Mike Pence, who hours earlier said the trade deal could leapfrog the trial on Mr. Trump’s removal if Mrs. Pelosi clings to the articles of impeachment for much longer. She’s already kept them in her grasp for more than three weeks.

The Senate parliamentarian determined that several panels must approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement — or USMCA — so the panels are lining up votes for next week.

“You can see the Senate’s not going to dilly-dally around while we’re waiting to see what Speaker Pelosi wants to do on impeachment,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

“These committees are going to act very quickly next week, and whenever the leader decides to bring this up, we’ll be ready to go,” added the Iowa Republican.

Mr. Grassley’s committee approved the USMCA by an overwhelming margin Tuesday. The deal is designed to open up markets for American farmers and ranchers, shore up labor standards and spur production in the automobile sector while avoiding onerous tariffs.

“This is a good thing for America. It needs to get done,” said Sen. James E. Risch, Idaho Republican.

The House approved the deal in December, sending it to the Senate, though the timing of a floor vote hinges on when the chamber receives the articles of impeachment, which will take precedence over legislative action.

Mr. Trump sees his overhaul of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, as the 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.

Mr. Pence on Thursday said the Senate doesn’t need to wait for the articles of impeachment before acting on the deal.

“The USMCA is a huge win for American farmers, a huge win for American workers,” he told the “Fox and Friends” television program. “While the House of Representatives dithers with their partisan impeachment, the Senate should move on the USMCA and keep this booming economy booming.”

Mr. Grassley said that because one of the committee votes is scheduled for Thursday, it’s unlikely the full Senate could act on the deal next week even apart from the impeachment trial.

Yet Mr. McConnell, who controls the chamber floor, appeared eager to move forward, saying if Mrs. Pelosi fails to transmit the articles of impeachment, the upper chamber will move on to other issues.

“The Senate has plenty of serious work to do for our country. So while the speaker continues her irresponsible games, we will continue doing the people’s business,” he said.

Mrs. Pelosi has said she won’t hand over the impeachment articles until House Democrats are guaranteed what she calls a fair trial in the Republican-majority chamber. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have been using the delay to demand Republicans guarantee the opportunity to hear from witnesses during the trial.

House Democrats impeached Mr. Trump on Dec. 18, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from a July phone call with the Ukrainian president in which he requested a probe into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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