House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have opened a formal impeachment inquiry into the activities of President Donald Trump. Historically, impeachment proceedings have sent Congress’ productivity into a tailspin, but one item on the Congressional agenda this fall that could be immune from the political fallout is the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA).
The USMCA was signed by President Trump, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on November 30, 2018, but it requires “implementing legislation” to become fully effective. The implementing legislation can be considered under “fast track” procedures under trade law, but so far President Trump has not formally submitted the legislation to kickstart that process. Instead, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has been attempting to negotiate details of the legislation with a group of nine House Democrats, led by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal. Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats are concerned that the agreement may not be strong enough on labor, the environment, enforcement, and the cost of prescription drugs. And the Speaker has indicated that she will not bring it to the House floor without significant Democratic support. House Republicans are expected to overwhelmingly support the trade deal.
Trade negotiators from both parties have committed to work on USMCA during impeachment proceedings, but the reality is, they could become mired by partisanship during this contentious, partisan process. That said, there are 31 House Democrats running for Congress from districts that President Trump won in 2016, and many of these districts are pro-trade and are generally more conservative than the average House seat held by Democrats. These members will likely be inclined to support USMCA even if the majority of House Democrats remain opposed. These 31 Members will be an important factor in the next election for Democrats seeking to maintain their House majority.
Under fast track procedures, if the President submits USMCA implementing legislation to Congress, it must be voted on by the House and Senate within 90 session days. Many are hoping that a vote can take place this year. With impeachment proceedings continuing to occupy the front page and only six or seven weeks left in the Congressional session this year, USMCA will be one to put on your “watch list.” If USMCA fails to pass in 2019, House Democrats will be faced with a vote in 2020.