One day after impeaching President Donald Trump, the Democratic-led House voted to give him an overwhelming bipartisan victory Thursday on a renegotiated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.
By a 385-41 vote, the House approved a bill that puts in place terms of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
The legislation passed with bipartisan support as it allows lawmakers from both parties the chance to support an agreement sought by farmers, ranchers and business owners eager to move past the months of trade tensions that have complicated spending and hiring decisions.
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.
“Critics said it couldn’t be done, but he made it happen. Another promise made, another promise kept,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, said.
The bill won praise even from Democrats who have voted against prior trade agreements.
“Twenty-six years ago, I opposed NAFTA with every bone in my body,” Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia said. “I never thought the day would come when we would have the opportunity to right some of the wrongs in that agreement.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed the agreement before lawmakers Thursday was “light years” ahead of what the administration negotiated with Canada and Mexico. “We knew we could do better,” the California Democrat said.
The GOP-controlled Senate probably will take up the legislation when members return to Washington after 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.
The International Trade Commission projected in April that the agreement would boost the economy by $68 billion and add 176,000 jobs six years after taking effect.
Some of the biggest impacts would be felt in the U.S. automotive industry. The agreement aims to see more cars produced where workers earn an average of at least $16 an hour.
The commission found that the new agreement would create 30,000 jobs in American auto parts plants. On the down side, the commission found the pact would increase the cost of pickup trucks and cars. That would hurt demand and reduce the number of jobs in factories that assemble cars by about 1,500.
Business and farm groups had been hitting the airwaves and the halls of Congress to get lawmakers to support the pact, putting pressure on Democrats to work with the administration even as labor unions remained wary that the new deal represented much of an improvement from NAFTA.
Trump, at times, seemed resigned to the assessment that the two sides would never reach a compromise. “She’s incapable of moving it,” Trump asserted of Pelosi just a few weeks ago.
But behind the scenes, Trump’s lead negotiator, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, was working with House Democrats on changes to address their concerns.
The agreement includes a process that could lead to inspections of factories and facilities in Mexico that are not living up to labor obligations. It secures more than $600 million for environmental problems in the NAFTA region. It also scrapped giving pharmaceutical companies 10 years’ protection from cheaper competition in a category of ultra-expensive drugs called biologics, which are used to fight such illnesses as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
In the end, the AFL-CIO endorsed the pact, as did the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other major business groups.
Some Republicans grumbled that Democrats took too long to get USMCA across the finish line, but many are quite happy with the result.
GOP Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania said the pact reminded him of when he would write a letter to Santa, and it would be answered with most of the presents he wanted on Christmas morning.
“This is certainly one of those times when the letter to Santa Claus actually got answered,” Kelly said.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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