The Republican chairman of the Senate committee overseeing trade rebuffed a call by a dozen GOP senators to vote on a revised a U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade agreement this year, a move that likely will doom their effort.
The senators, in a Nov. 20 letter, urged President Donald Trump to send lawmakers final legislative language for the deal as soon as possible so that it can pass before Democrats take control of the House next year.
Congressional consideration of the trade pact, known as the USMCA, “this year is not realistic, but I look forward to continuing consultations with the Trump administration,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah said Wednesday. He said members are still reviewing the agreement.
The lawmakers wrote in a Nov. 20 letter they’re concerned that waiting until 2019 to send a draft to Congress would make passage “significantly more difficult,” as some Democrats have called for revisions. So far, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky hasn’t shown interest in considering the trade deal before the end of the year.
If the president pursues congressional approval this year, “we commit to working with you in a consultative manner to draft implementing legislation that could win our votes, as well as a majority in the House and Senate,” the senators wrote. The senators asked for the pact to be provided before Nov. 30.
The White House trade representative’s office declined to comment on the long-shot push by the Republicans.
All three nations are preparing to sign the agreement during the Group of 20 leaders’ summit in Argentina from Nov. 30-Dec. 1. The trade pact will require approval from the U.S. Congress and lawmakers in Mexico and Canada.
The letter was signed by Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Steve Daines of Montana, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Jon Kyl of Arizona, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Mike Lee of Utah, Rob Portman of Ohio, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Ted Cruz of Texas.
Toomey, who organized the letter, says he wants changes to the agreement in order to support it.
The U.S., Canada and Mexico reached a preliminary deal at the end of September to update the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump had derided as a “disaster” that cost the U.S. jobs. Negotiators from the three countries worked around the clock to clinch an agreement so outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto could sign it before his successor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador takes office Dec. 1.
The letter underscores the new clout Democrats will wield after the party seized control of the House of Representatives in last week’s midterm election. Republicans have a majority in the Senate and will turn over control of the House to Democrats in January.
The new deal would be called the U.S.-Mexico Canada Agreement. Business leaders welcomed the pact, which staved off the risk that Trump would withdraw from NAFTA, as he has repeatedly threatened. Still, Trump could give six months’ notice of U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA, which would put pressure on Democrats to vote for the deal or let the trading bloc collapse.