Lawmakers in both parties were unswayed Sunday by President Donald Trump's threat to pull the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, an apparent move to pressure a reluctant Congress to approve his replacement to the long-standing trade pact.
"I think we should see if we can get it passed first," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said on NBC's Meet the Press. "I want to see how many Democratic votes come on board for this."
Barrasso has called the new trade deal a "major step forward."
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he will not support the new trade deal as it currently stands because it "doesn't live up" to the president's promises to help workers and halt outsourcing. He called the president's threat "not particularly helpful."
Late Saturday, Trump announced his intention to quickly withdraw the United States from NAFTA, a move intended to force House Democrats to approve the new pact despite concerns that it fails to protect American workers.
"I will be formally terminating NAFTA shortly," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One en route from the Group of 20 conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a day after appearing at a ceremonial signing of the new deal with Canada and Mexico.
If the president follows through on his threat, congressional leaders will have six months to approve the new deal. The agreement has been losing support in recent days as Democratic lawmakers, ready to take control of the House in January, reckon with fallout from the announcement last week that General Motors was planning to idle five plants in North America.
If no deal could be reached, then both treaties would be void, which would result in far more restrictive trade that could have a severe effect on industry and agriculture in all three nations, economists have warned.
The president's NAFTA decision is the first indication of how he plans to deal with the new Democratic majority. Trump told reporters Saturday that Democrats "will have a choice" of whether to approve the deal as written or risk the consequences.
Even as he suggested he would make such a drastic move, he played down its potential effect, saying he would have no problem reverting to a "pre-NAFTA" environment. Such a scenario "works very well" for the United States, he said.
Trump has been touting the new trade agreement he has crafted with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. The deal, which the president has branded the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, would replace the 1994 agreement, which created a free-trade zone between the three countries.
"It's been so well reviewed, I don't expect to have very much of a problem," Trump said while ceremonially signing the deal on Friday.
But Congress -- along with the Canadian and Mexican legislatures -- must agree to the deal before it would go into effect. Lawmakers from both parties, including Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said last week that they would oppose it barring significant revisions.
Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader who is likely to be elected speaker, cast doubt on the likelihood that the deal could be approved without significant new assurances from Mexico that labor standards in the agreement will be strictly enforced.
Pelosi on Friday described the deal as a "work in progress" that her members could not yet support. "What isn't in it yet is enough enforcement reassurances regarding workers, provisions that relate to workers and to the environment," she said.
A spokesman for Pelosi did not say Sunday whether the president's threat to withdraw from NAFTA would accelerate her timetable or alter her negotiating strategy. "It's disappointing but not surprising that President Trump would try to force Congress to reinstate the status quo of NAFTA, instead of working constructively with Congress to improve his proposed agreement to actually protect and strengthen American workers," said the spokesman, Henry Connelly.
Brown, who has long opposed NAFTA, said he wants to return to negotiations with Canadian and Mexican leaders on the replacement agreement. "We've got to do this right," he told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd. "These rules so far don't get us where we need to get to stop the outsourcing of jobs, to protect the dignity of workers."
Barrasso did not criticize the president for threatening to cancel NAFTA.
"I'm a free trader, I'm a fair trader," Barrasso said when pressed by Todd to respond to the threat. "I think the president has proven to be a successful trader ... everything the president has promised, he has delivered on."
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Friday that he was in talks with Democrats.
"The negotiations are not going to be reopened, right? The agreement's been signed. We still have to put together an implementing bill, so there are things that we can do," Lighthizer told reporters Friday in Buenos Aires. "We'll get the support of a lot of Democrats, a very high number of Democrats. Absolutely, just no doubt about it."
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said the process will be more complicated than a simple approval of the new deal to replace NAFTA.
"Congress has a right to come in and review, whether it's labor, whether it's environmental, whether the deal is actually better," Warner said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation. "These are all open questions, and I think you've already seen pushback from folks on both sides of the aisle."
Warner said he was "not ready at all at this point" to say how he'd vote on the pact.
There is no language in NAFTA's authorizing law that requires congressional approval for withdrawal from the treaty, although some members of Trump's staff believe the matter is ambiguous and could end up in court.
Congress, at Pelosi's instigation, could proactively pass legislation, with a veto-proof majority, blocking him from pulling out of NAFTA. But most legislative leaders think that scenario is unlikely.
Trump's announcement, which came shortly after he agreed in face-to-face negotiations with Chinese President Xi Jinping to hold off on increasing tariffs against China, was also intended to emphasize his tough stance on trade as he softens his posture with Beijing.
The decision took many of Trump's economic advisers by surprise: In the lead-up to the Argentina trip, most of them were said to believe that scrapping NAFTA was off the table.
But Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with Democrats, telling people in his orbit that he believes they would rather turn their backs on a "great deal" than see him achieve one of his top campaign goals, according to a person who has spoken to the president in the past week.
Peter Navarro, Trump's hard-line trade adviser, had long prodded the president to formally withdraw from NAFTA, and Trump has frequently threatened to do so during meetings with his staff members and with foreign leaders.
Until Friday, sources said, he had been talked out of making such a move by moderate advisers including Gary Cohn, former head of the National Economic Council; his successor, Larry Kudlow; and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who also had pressed the president to hold off on the increased tariffs against China.
Information for this article was contributed by Glenn Thrush of The New York Times; by Jennifer Epstein, Josh Wingrove, Eric Martin and Katia Dmitrieva of Bloomberg News; and by Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post.
A Section on 12/03/2018
Print Headline: Lawmakers holding firm on trade deal; Trump ratchets up pressure with threat to end NAFTA