Senate panel advances Trump's new NAFTA despite GOP gripes
Senate panel advances Trump's new NAFTA despite GOP gripes BY SYLVAN LANE TWEET SHARE MORE A Senate panel on Tuesday advanced President Trump’s revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) almost unanimously despite grumbling from conservative lawmakers.
The Senate Finance Committee voted 25-3 to send to the full chamber a bill implementing Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) opposed the measure, which passed the House last month with broad bipartisan support.
The GOP-controlled Senate is expected to finalize the USMCA within weeks, cementing Trump’s most substantial victory on trade policy. But Senate leaders could be forced to delay a floor vote until after Trump's impeachment trial if Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sends House-passed articles of impeachment to the upper chamber in the coming days.
ADVERTISEMENT While the new trade deal is not the total replacement of NAFTA that Trump promised during the 2016 campaign, it makes significant updates to the 1994 pact that the president called the “worst” trade agreement in U.S. history.
Trump was able to secure the support of Democrats and some labor unions after agreeing to several major concessions. Changes that won over progressives included tougher labor law enforcement, stricter environmental standards and stripping protections for certain high-cost pharmaceuticals.
“When the Trump administration sent up the first version of this new NAFTA agreement, it was just more of the status quo. It didn't cut it,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, who voted in favor of the measure Tuesday.
ADVERTISEMENT Most Senate Republicans are eager to hand Trump a victory on one of his top priorities ahead of the 2020 elections, despite their preferences for looser trade restrictions.
But several GOP senators complained Tuesday about being taken for granted.
“Here we are today, totally jammed by the House and this process, not even able to offer an amendment,” Toomey said. “We've slapped on all of these provisions designed to restrict trade and investment, we’ll get no economic growth out of this. And we, the Senate and the Senate Finance Committee, are allowing ourselves to be marginalized.”
Cassidy, the only other Republican to vote against USMCA on Tuesday, said, “The House got a lot of stuff because the House actually had the ability to say, ‘We're not going to do this unless we get our demands met.’ We've not had that ability.”
ADVERTISEMENT Pelosi refused to hold a vote on USMCA without drastic changes to the agreement first proposed by Trump in 2018. After six months of intense and secretive negotiations, Trump and Pelosi announced a deal on a revised pact with the endorsement of powerful labor groups like the AFL-CIO that have long opposed NAFTA.
Trump’s protectionist trade policy has been a constant strain on the president's relationship with congressional Republicans who support reducing trade barriers. Several GOP senators said Tuesday that while they shared the concerns of Toomey and Cassidy, they had little choice but to approve USMCA.
“Sen. Toomey made a bunch of important comments that I agree with as well,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). “And yet we need to, given the political realities, get this agreement across the finish line.”
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) added that USMCA “is certainly not a perfect deal, and not necessarily the deal that I would like us to be discussing today, but it certainly is a step in the right direction.”
Trump has threatened to pull out of the original NAFTA agreement if Congress fails to approve USMCA. Doing so would likely derail the economies of all three countries, upend continental supply lines and send prices for groceries soaring.
Trump administration installs plaque marking finish of 100 miles of border wall
Trump administration installs plaque marking finish of 100 miles of border wall BY JUSTIN WISE TWEET SHARE MORE The Trump administration earlier this month installed a plaque on a new barrier along the southern border commemorating the construction of 100 miles of President Trump's long-sought border wall.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf traveled to Yuma, Ariz., on Jan. 10 to announce that the administration had finished building 100 miles of new barriers, calling the feat a "milestone" that deserved "celebration."
He said in a tweet Saturday that he delivered a silver replica plaque to Trump "on behalf of the men and women of U.S. Border Patrol" and Anthony Porvaznik, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection sector chief in Yuma.
ADVERTISEMENT The plaque noted in its inscription that another one was affixed to a new barrier constructed along the Colorado River in Yuma. The plaque says that it is "dedicated to all the men and women who work tirelessly to protect our nation."
Proud to deliver this to @POTUS @RealDonaldTrump this week on behalf of the men and women of U.S. Border Patrol and @USBPChiefYum. 101 miles of wall and counting! pic.twitter.com/VFot4e1ki9
— Acting Secretary Chad Wolf (@DHS_Wolf) January 18, 2020 "Thank you for your steadfast commitment to the Southwest Border Wall project in the Yuma Sector," the plaque reads.
ADVERTISEMENT Trump made the construction of a wall along the southern border a major theme of his 2016 presidential campaign, and in February, he declared a national emergency to bypass Congress and spend roughly $6 billion in military funds to start building a wall.
The declaration spurred numerous legal actions, but the Supreme Court last July ruled that the Trump administration could begin using $2.5 billion in military funds for construction of a wall while litigation played out.
A federal appeals court offered another win to Trump on Jan. 8 by lifting a lower court's ruling blocking the administration from tapping into military funds for wall construction. The most recent ruling applied to a separate set of funds, CNN reported.
Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that the administration was planning to divert another $7.2 billion from the Pentagon to go toward border wall construction this year. It would mark the second year in a row that military funding was redirected to wall construction.
ADVERTISEMENT "We will continue to oppose the transfer of counterdrug funding for the wall, and will force yet another vote to terminate the President’s sham national emergency declaration and return these much-needed military construction funds back to our military," a group of senators, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), said in a statement in response to the report.