AFL-CIO chief: We've got a deal on USMCA

Can Donald Trump score a major win on trade and international relations even as House Democrats prepare to impeach him on his handling of the latter? The president of the nation’s largest labor coalition says yes. The White House has crafted a deal on the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement which satisfies both unions and Democrats, and now should pass quickly in the House:

A key party to the talks, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, said Monday morning that there was a deal and he planned to meet with his executive committee Monday afternoon to discuss it.

“We have pushed them hard and have done quite well,” Trumka said in an email to the Washington Post.

Support from the AFL-CIO, which opposes the existing North American Free Trade Agreement and blames it for destroying millions of good-paying manufacturing jobs, would likely ensure support from a majority of House Democrats if the deal is brought up for a vote.

Perhaps realizing the issue will play to Trump’s benefit, the union’s negotiator tried to wrest credit for deal away from the president. Their demands produced a trade deal with “significant differences,” the attorney claims:

“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 lawer with Dickinson Wright. “There are going to be significant differences.”

Differences, to be sure, but how significant are they likely to be? According to the Washington Post, the changes focus mainly on steel, iron, and pharmaceuticals, which are important trade areas but hardly the bulk of transactions in North America. Besides, the deal will still need passage in Mexico and Canada after the US codifies the trade deal into statutory law. They wouldn’t go along with a massive overhaul of the agreement that they made earlier with Trump, not unless the Democrats went all the way back to NAFTA.

And let’s not forget too that the ongoing negotiations with Mexico and Canada were conducted by the White House, not the AFL-CIO. As the terms have changed in talks with the House Democrats and Labor, trade representative Robert Lighthizer has held continuous meetings with his counterparts in both countries to simultaneously work out the differences between the original USMCA and the demands being made in the House.

Politically, this would be a huge win for Trump, who almost alone campaigned against the preceding NAFTA during the 2016 campaign. He called it the worst trade deal in history, promising to end it and replace it with a deal that treated American workers with more respect. Despite considerable skepticism that Trump could get Canada and Mexico back to the bargaining table, he managed to succeed in the end with short-term trade wars that both Republicans and Democrats initially opposed. Trump has been waiting more than a year for the House to act on the deal, and until recently it appeared that Nancy Pelosi was content to run out the clock on the agreement rather than give Trump a win.

Now, however, voters are asking why Democrats aren’t getting anything done except impeachment, especially in the key swing states that gave Trump his victory in 2016. Pelosi might need this more than Trump does at this point, especially now that she has fully committed to getting articles of impeachment to the House floor by Christmas. If that’s all she has to show for 2019, Pelosi is going to lose some of her freshmen in the next election and Democrats might not win back Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin in 2020 either.