Moderate Democrats call out McConnell on vote delay on Mexico-Canada trade deal
Vulnerable House Democrats say they are frustrated that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pushed a Senate vote on the new North American trade pact to next year.
The House is poised to pass the USMCA on Thursday with strong Democratic support after landing a compromise deal with the Trump administration. But McConnell has already said the Senate will likely not consider President Donald Trump’s signature trade deal until after the impeachment trial in January.
Iowa Democrat Cindy Axne and a group of six other freshman Democrats from Trump-won and swing districts are calling on McConnell to pass the USMCA before the upper chamber goes on recess. They're angry about the delay after they spent the past year fending off criticism in their districts from Vice President Mike Pence, Republicans and business groups that they were part of the House Democratic majority holding up the USMCA.
“Not bringing something to the floor by the time we go home, by the end of this year, to give that Christmas gift to our farmers is hypocritical at best — and not looking out for the best interests of our country,” Axne told POLITICO.
“To say he’s going to hold off is really a political stunt,” she added.
In a letter to McConnell obtained by POLITICO, the seven Democrats from purple districts urged McConnell to hold a vote quickly.
“The Senate cannot leave for recess until you pass the USMCA,” the Democrats wrote in the letter. “USMCA cannot end up in the Senate’s Legislative Graveyard.”
The letter was also signed by Reps. Anthony Brindisi of New York, Abby Finkenauer of Iowa, Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Angie Craig of Minnesota.
A spokesperson for McConnell’s office referred to the majority leader’s comments last week, in which he said ”what is not possible obviously would be to turn to an impeachment trial or to do USMCA in the Senate before we break for Christmas.”
The Senate, instead, is focused on defense and spending bills this week.
In a floor speech Thursday, McConnell blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the delay on USMCA.
“Unfortunately, the Speaker’s 12 months of delay have made it literally impossible for the Senate to take up the agreement this year," McConnell said Thursday. "And if House Democrats send us impeachment articles, those have to come first in January, so the USMCA will get pushed back yet again.”
McConnell said it was too late to consider the USMCA implementing bill because the House has to take it up first. However, under the trade promotion authority law, the House and Senate can consider the deal at the same time.
“There is just no way the Senate can make up for 12 months of House Democrat delays in just a couple of days,” he said.
Moderate Democrats have been among the most vocal pushing for passage of the USMCA. Many have argued they don't want to go back to their districts without passing meaningful legislation like USMCA to show they can do more than impeach the president.
Some were vocal in expressing their frustration at the pace of negotiations between House Democrats and the Trump administration in getting a compromise that addressed Democrats’ concerns. Democrats pushed for changes to the deal’s provisions on enforcement, labor and environmental standards, as well as drug pricing.
Now, they’re pleased to have a deal that a majority of Democrats and Republicans are touting as a bipartisan win for American workers. The deal has gotten widespread support from agricultural, manufacturing and business groups, as well as major labor unions like AFL-CIO.
But Axne and her colleagues say they worry their constituents won’t be able to unlock the full benefits of the deal until it's ratified by the Senate.
“I hope the same business groups that were pushing us to get moving in the House will impress the urgency upon the Senate now,” Brindisi said. “There’s no reason to not act now.”