The Trump administration has formally notified Congress it’s moving forward with its plan to get the new Nafta approved, a move that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called “not a positive step” as her party weighs whether to support the deal.
White House officials submitted a so-called Statement of Administrative Action, a step toward introducing legislation that would bring the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement into force. The move starts a minimum 30-day period for consultations between the White House and Congress to finalize the bill, before a vote can take place.
It could set up a showdown with Democrats who have opposed efforts by the Trump administration to rush a vote on the deal. While some Democrats are also pushing the White House’s goal for approval before the August recess, others are wary of delivering Trump a signature legislative victory as he hits the campaign trail for his 2020 re-election bid.
Pelosi said on Thursday that it was too early for the White House to have issued the notification because the Democrats are still working with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to address their concerns.
“It indicates a lack of knowledge on the part of the administration on the policy and process to pass a trade agreement,” Pelosi said in a statement. “We have been on a path to yes, but it must be a path that leads to an agreement that delivers positive results for American workers and farmers.”
The Trump administration is “making energetic efforts”’ to see Congress approve the deal “this summer,” said Vice President Mike Pence on a visit to Ottawa on Thursday for discussions on advancing the pact with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Asked at a news conference later whether acrimony between President Donald Trump and Pelosi could get in the way of ratification in Washington, Pence said that “The president and I are absolutely determined to work with rank and file in Congress and the leadership to move the USMCA forward.”
But Dwight Evans, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said he believes Congress will eventually resolve their differences and pass the agreement. Still, he warned against rushing the timeline of a process that Pelosi controls and has used as a negotiating tool in the past. “You are not going to jam Nancy Pelosi,” Evans said.
The U.S., Canada and Mexico signed the new trade deal in November after a year of negotiations behind closed doors to hammer out the pact. The Trump administration notified Congress at the end of January that it would need to modify several U.S. laws to make good on proposed changes on auto-content rules and other issues in the agreement.
The notice presented by the White House to Congress outlines U.S. legal obligations that are required by the USMCA.
Trump is pursuing approval of the deal under so-called fast-track authority, which enables him to seek a straight yes-or-not vote in exchange for clearing certain procedural hurdles.
House Democrats have raised a number of areas where they would like to see changes, including to provisions governing labor, the environment and pharmaceuticals. In a step viewed as positive, Pelosi his month created working groups to negotiate with the administration and the removal of U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico this month also cleared a hurdle for lawmakers of both parties.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In 2008, President George W. Bush tried to force Pelosi to schedule a vote on the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement by sending the deal to the House without her permission. Pelosi engineered a change in House rules to prevent a fast track vote and stall the agreement for years.
Reporting by Jenny Leonard and Erik Wasson.