Trump’s trade deal poses a dilemma for Democrats

President Trump and his son boarded Air Fore One on Sunday.
President Trump and his son boarded Air Fore One on Sunday. AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — House Democrats face a difficult choice: Should they hand President Trump a victory in the midst of the impeachment battle or walk away from one of the most progressive trade pacts ever negotiated by either party?

The administration agreed with Canada and Mexico on North American Free Trade Agreement revisions one year ago, but the deal still needs Congress’s approval. A handshake agreement with the administration in coming days would give Democrats a tangible accomplishment on an issue that has animated its base. It could also give Democrats a chance to lock in long-sought policy changes to a trade pact they criticize as prioritizing corporations over workers.


After months of talks, both sides say they’re in final negotiations. But Democrats insist the administration must make more changes to labor, environmental, and other provisions before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will bring legislation implementing the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to a vote.

The deal presents a dilemma for Democrats: It contains measures they have supported for years, from requiring more of a car’s parts to be made in North America to rolling back a special system of arbitration for corporations and strengthening Mexican labor unions.

The revised pact reflects Trump’s populist approach — one that has blurred party lines and appealed to many of the blue-collar workers Democrats once counted among their base. It also reflects a broader backlash to more traditional free trade deals, which have been criticized for hollowing out American manufacturing and eliminating jobs.

“Taken as a whole, it looks more like an agreement that would’ve been negotiated under the Obama administration,” said Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the trade representative in the George W. Bush administration. “There are some aspects to it that Democrats have been calling for, for decades.”