Democrats taking the wrong path by delaying trade deal

Democrats taking the wrong path by delaying trade deal

Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the top Democrat in Congress, has been at loggerheads with US President Donald Trump. (AFP)

By now, the US was supposed to have already formally agreed its most important trade deal, the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). However, politics got in the way. Now it is being delayed in the US Congress by the head of the congressional Democrats in what is shaping up to be a huge political blunder come election time.

Almost 26 years ago, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) essentially opened the borders for commerce between the three countries of North America. They were each other’s most important trade partners in 1994, just as they are today. NAFTA increased trade in the region, but it came to be seen as an impediment to job growth in the US. The American manufacturing sector, which had once been the strongest in the world, has dwindled in the last quarter of a century and some blame NAFTA for a good portion of its failure.

When President Donald Trump ran for office, he promised a renegotiation of NAFTA to ensure it benefited the US and American workers. This helped him win votes in places like the “Rust Belt” — a region in the Midwestern US so called because of its once-proud manufacturing industries. Largely based on his economic and trade policies, Trump won over voters in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, including union manufacturing voters who had once reliably supported Democratic candidates.

If the Democratic presidential candidate has any chance of beating Trump in 2020, he or she will need to win back these Rust Belt voters. The three states mentioned above are likely to be the keys for victory in the presidential election. Moreover, the Democratic congressional candidates are at risk of losing seats to Republicans in these once-prosperous manufacturing districts. Thus, Democratic politicians must show empathy for the voters of these and other regions, and they must show they are working to improve job opportunities.

If the Democratic presidential candidate has any chance of beating Trump in 2020, he or she will need to win back Rust Belt voters.

Ellen R. Wald

When he was elected president, Trump pursued that renegotiation of NAFTA. In 2017 and 2018, the White House and its counterparts in Ottawa and Mexico City negotiated an agreement that would bring the trade partnership in line with the current economic needs of each country. At first, Mexico and especially Canada seemed hesitant to renegotiate. However, after Mexico agreed and Trump threatened to work only with that country, Canada quickly agreed too. By the autumn of 2018, the three countries had settled on parameters for a new and better agreement for all of them.

Now 2019 is ending, and the US Congress still has not ratified, or approved, it. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the top Democrat in Congress, said last month: “I’m not even sure if we came to an agreement today that it would be enough time to finish (ratifying the agreement before the end of the year).” For his part, Trump said, “all (Pelosi) has to do is put (USMCA) up for a vote.” He has accused Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues of using the delay on the USMCA vote to garner support for investigations and impeachment of the president.

In his response to Pelosi, Trump has revealed the tactic he and other Republicans will use in the 2020 election campaign. Republicans running in the Rust Belt and across the rest of the country will point to the strong economy experienced by the US under Trump’s presidency as a reason for voters to continue supporting Republicans. Now that Pelosi has refused to allow a vote on the USMCA, Republicans will say that the economy and employment opportunities would be even better but for the obstruction of congressional Democrats.

Pelosi and the Democrats want to push these investigations of the president further, even after investigating him for almost three years to no avail. However, voters care most about their own families. The primary concerns for American voters are always the health, security and financial prosperity of their own families. As Pelosi and the Democrats further delay the USMCA, they are only handing the Republicans an argument that they care about the lives of voters while Democrats do not.

However, this was not necessary. The Democrats did not need to hand this victory to Republicans. They could have worked with the president to satisfy their issues with the USMCA and approve it. Not long ago, it was common for one party in the Congress to work cooperatively with the other in the White House to pass legislation that was widely supported by the voters. If Democrats in Congress had followed that model with the USMCA, they would have been able to tout their support of job growth to the voters in the Rust Belt and elsewhere. Now, the Democratic presidential candidate and Democrat congressional candidates will be forced to justify their party’s delay on the USMCA. This is not a path to political success.

• Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is the president of Transversal Consulting and also teaches Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University. Twitter: @EnergzdEconomy

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