WASHINGTON — The White House and House Democrats are on the cusp of finalizing a new trade deal for North America, a major achievement for President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that comes even as Democrats prepare to impeach the President.
Jessica Ditto, White House deputy communications director, told Senate Republican aides Monday that a deal could be announced as soon as that day, according to two people who attended the briefing.
Administration officials have separately indicated to key congressional committees, as well as leadership in both parties, that an agreement is close and could be announced soon, according to people familiar with the message.
White House officials were hopeful to have the deal secured by this week so that the House of Representatives could try to vote on it by Christmas.
In the meeting with GOP aides on Capitol Hill, Ditto also spoke about labor protections — a key priority for Democrats and unions — as part of the discussion and stressed that the revised North American Free Trade Agreement has the strongest provisions for labor that any trade deal has had, according to several people present who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the talks publicly.
She also stressed that Republicans need to continue to promote the trade agreement — which would be one of the most significant policy achievements in Trump’s first term — well after it’s ratified.
One point that is likely to bolster support among Democrats: Top officials at the AFL-CIO were planning to meet to discuss the near-agreement later Monday, union president Richard Trumka said.
Support from the AFL-CIO, which opposes the existing NAFTA and blames it for destroying millions of good-paying manufacturing jobs, would likely ensure backing from a majority of House Democrats if the deal is brought up for a vote.
Backing from the AFL-CIO would also indicate that Democrats had succeeded in negotiating stronger enforcement mechanisms and protections for labor than existed in the agreement signed by Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Canada a year ago.
“The USMCA they signed in 2018 is not going to be the same as the USMCA we see in 2019,” said Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer with Dickinson Wright. “There are going to be significant differences.”
The pact must be ratified by the legislatures in all three countries before it can take effect.
Pelosi has said she wants the deal to be transformative and a blueprint for future trade deals and hopes to pass it by year’s end. A Senate vote may not occur until early next year, according to several business executives following the process.
Secretive negotiations between U.S Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal have moved forward even with impeachment proceedings underway.
In recent days there have been a flurry of meetings between Lighthizer and Mexican and Canadian leaders as parties to the deal sought to iron out final sticking points.
These included provisions related to steel, iron and pharmaceutical drugs.
A spokesman for Pelosi declined to comment.
The trade agreement would replace the 25-year old NAFTA, which Trump has reviled as “the worst trade deal ever.”