AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
- US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met with Democrats on the Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday to field questions about the USMCA.
- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer characterized the White House as not actively pushing Congress to pass the deal.
- Republicans have suggested the USMCA might already be dead in the water.
WASHINGTON — Democrats on the House Committee on Ways & Means met with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Tuesday, signaling the White House is getting serious about attempting to shepherd their replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through Congress.
The new agreement, called the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), has for the last several months been a low priority for an administration facing mounting investigations, a record-long partial government shutdown, and disputes over funding a wall along the United States border with Mexico.
Lighthizer briefed Democratic members of the Ways & Means Committee about the USMCA on Tuesday, fielding questions on topics that will be crucial to have any change of actually passing the plan.
Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey told INSIDER that Lighthizer addressed Democrats’ concerns about the USMCA in a forthright manner.
"He knows he’s going to need Democratic votes in order to pass this thing," he said. "We made it very clear — let me just say this — we made it very clear there’s a difference between the main body of the agreement and addendums and appendixes, which make it more difficult sometimes to enforce these things. So enforcement was a major part of our discussion."
"They don’t think they’re going to have enough votes on their side obviously to pass it. They don’t," Pascrell added. "Even if every Republican voted they still don’t have enough votes."
One Democratic aide close to Ways & Means told INSIDER that this week marks the start of committee members getting actual face time with Lighthizer and other officials.
Another aide characterized the negotiations as a bit "awkward," citing the fact that some of the officials at the Treasury Department "running point on USMCA area also the ones who have to address our attempts to get Trump’s tax returns."
The White House has so far failed to engage Congress on the USMCA
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters in a meeting in his Capitol office on Tuesday the White House has so far not made the USMCA a priority, adding that it is rarely even discussed within the House Democratic Caucus.
"I will tell you that I’ve had a very, very brief, like you know, 30-second conversation with one of the White House representatives who said, ‘Has there been any discussion in your caucus? And I said, ‘No,’" Hoyer said.
"It’s not a question of ignoring it," he added. "It’s just that the administration hasn’t made much of a push at this point in time but I presume they will be pretty soon."
A spokesperson for Lighthizer did not respond to a request for comment.
And Republicans who are not very inclined to back the USMCA have already dismissed it as dead in the water.
During a January meeting with reporters in his Capitol Hill office, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania suggested the agreement faces too much Democratic opposition to get anywhere.
"Obviously that ship has sailed and now we’re in a position where our Democratic colleagues are — I’m not a aware of a single elected Democrat member of Congress who’ve endorsed this," he said. "Maybe you are but I’m not. I’m aware of many who have panned it."
"So it’s not clear to me what the path forward is," Toomey added. "As I’ve warned the administration, there’s a lot of resistance from Democrats. I don’t see this as a high priority for Speaker Pelosi — maybe I’m mistaken."
Lighthizer is slated to testify before the full committee on Wednesday about negotiations between the United States and China.
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