Freshmen Democrats push for changes to USMCA
Almost half of House Democratic freshmen have come out against the new North American trade pact in its current form, demanding that the Trump administration make the deal more worker-friendly before sending it to Congress for a vote.
In a letter to President Donald Trump’s trade chief, 27 Democrats said the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement must be renegotiated to include stronger enforcement mechanisms and labor and environmental standards, as well as cut out a provision tied to pharmaceuticals.
The new deal “is essentially NAFTA 2.0: while it includes some important improvements from the original NAFTA, critical unfinished business would perpetuate NAFTA’s damage,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter sent Wednesday. “The new text also includes new terms that we oppose, including some that would lock in high U.S. drug prices.”
“We can do better,” they added.
The Trump administration is already facing an uphill battle to secure the Democratic support needed to get the deal signed into law. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, for his part, has repeatedly pledged to work with Democrats to address their concerns. He met with freshman Democrats earlier this year as well.
On Tuesday, nine House Democrats, tasked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi with securing changes to the USMCA, met with Lighthizer for the first time. Lawmakers left that meeting optimistic that they will be in frequent contact with the U.S. trade chief to work out their issues.
The letter was signed by a range of Democrats, including progressives like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) as well as more centrist lawmakers like Katie Hill (Calif.) and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (Fla.). Reps. Andy Levin (Mich.), Susan Wild (Pa.) and Chuy García (Ill.) spearheaded the letter.
It’s likely not welcome news for Trump, as it includes the signatures of some freshmen the White House was hoping would support the deal.
Seven of the freshman Democrats come from districts Trump won in 2016: Jared Golden (Maine), Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), Jeff Van Drew (N.J.), Chris Pappas (N.H.), Max Rose (N.Y.), Elaine Luria (Va.) and Conor Lamb (Pa.).
A dozen New Democrats also signed the letter in a show that the party is largely united in wanting certain changes to the deal. New Democrats are a pro-free-trade bloc that is widely seen as a potential source of the Democratic votes necessary to pass the USMCA in the House.
The majority of the concerns outlined in the letter have been broadly circulated by House Democrats since the agreement was signed in November. However, the group of freshman Democrats included one additional demand: country of origin meat labeling.
“Consumers’ right to know about where and how their food is produced must also be protected,” the lawmakers wrote.
“These improvements are necessary for a renegotiated NAFTA to obtain the broad support necessary to pass,” they added.