A lack of preparation on Democrats’ part does not constitute an emergency for Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell said yesterday — but the White House might disagree. The Senate Majority Leader told reporters that there would not be enough time left on the legislative calendar to give the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) a proper review before the Senate heads into its Christmas recess on the 13th. Instead, that will have to wait for January — and a predicted impeachment trial — while McConnell proceeds on the long-overdue budget and some more judicial confirmations.
The latter in particular will stick in the craws of Democrats:
MITCH MCCONNELL: "We will not be doing USMCA in the Senate between now and the end of next week. That'll have to come up, in all likelihood, right after the [impeachment] trial is finished in the Senate." pic.twitter.com/S6UhUYKnhp
— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) December 10, 2019
How legit is this explanation? If the Senate just wanted to adopt the deal as is, it probably wouldn’t require a lot of work — but it might still take quite a bit of legislative time. The Senate’s requirements for debate, as well as the committee processes that might come into play, make it a close call.
Nancy Pelosi’s deputy comms director calls it “total nonsense,” although that might have also been directed at Bloomberg’s Erik Wasson:
Total nonsense. House & Senate passed Korea, Panama, and Colombia Trade Agreements on *the same day* (Oct 12, 2011). Senator McConnell has NO excuse not to bring up the #USMCA. https://t.co/vmkXoSHi9L
— Henry Connelly (@HenryVConnelly) December 10, 2019
Part of that haste, however, was that it took years for the Obama administration to move on those. The Colombia trade deal in particular was negotiated during the Bush administration and was initially opposed by Barack Obama. Connelly conveniently skips over the part where Democrats held up the works for two-plus years while the overwhelming consensus for passage had existed all along. And not to put too fine a point on it, but the same House hadn’t spent January through September 2011 looking for an excuse to impeach Obama, either. It’s rather rich of Connelly to use those trade agreements as examples of expeditious bipartisanship, or to demand it at this late stage either, in other words.
However, another old saying instructs that politics occasionally makes for strange bedfellows. Look who’s elbowing Pelosi and Connelly for more covers:
“It is long overdue for Congress to take up the USMCA, and we expect to push hard on passing the implementing bill before the end of the year.” — White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham …
Trump is eager to pass USMCA before the end of the year, and House leaders are mulling ways to expedite the deal amid pending votes on impeachment and government funding.
They are still deliberating whether to use a fast-track process known as trade promotion authority (TPA), which has additional requirements, and whether to mark up the bill in committee.
But McConnell’s hesitance to take up USMCA until after impeachment could set up a fight with the White House, which insists on passing the deal before the end of the year.
Does the White House really want to prioritize this over confirming more judges? McConnell was clever to include that, not just to troll Democrats but also to remind Trump that the limited legislative time needs to be put to its best immediate use. The USMCA can wait, as its form won’t change in the intervening few weeks and the congressional session will run throughout 2020.
And, of course, it does make political sense for McConnell to wait until after impeachment. The House could have gotten this done months ago, but Nancy Pelosi chose to suddenly shepherd it through as a convenient smoke screen for what is shaping up to be an unpopular impeachment. Why should McConnell play along with Pelosi’s PR campaign?
Pelosi will gripe about it for the next few weeks, but she made her own bed in this case. If she complains too loudly as the Senate gears up for the trial that Republicans aren’t working on the USMCA, then McConnell can argue that she’s making it clear that Pelosi doesn’t consider impeachment to be a serious matter, and the Senate shouldn’t either.