Nancy Pelosi, a veteran Democrat brawler and vocal critic of Canada's trade agreement with the United States and Mexico, resumed her role Thursday as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Two months ago, the American people spoke, and demanded a new dawn,” Pelosi said. “They called upon the beauty of our constitution, our system of checks and balances that protects our democracy, remembering that the legislative branch is Article I: The first branch of government, co-equal to the president and judiciary.
“They want a Congress that delivers results for the people, opening up opportunity and lifting up their lives.”
Many Democrats feel disinclined to give Trump even an inch of breathing room. That has sparked concern that the hard-won new USMCA, the presumptive successor to NAFTA that's still awaiting legislative ratification in all three countries, could hang in the balance as the president learns for the first time what it's like to govern without Republicans in control of Congress.
All of which could bode ill for USMCA, given the Democrat ambivalence it inspires. The agreement includes elements aimed at the centre-left members in Congress, including environmental protections and a requirement that by 2023, 45 per cent of auto parts be made by workers being paid at least $16 an hour. Mexico must also pass a host of labour-law reforms that support and protect women, unions and migrant workers.
But to critics like Pelosi and other powerful Democrats, it lacks teeth.
“The idea that we're going to be able to get a trade deal through Congress when we can't even keep the government open — I think that should level-set expectations for the prospect of USMCA in 2019,” said Dan Ujczo, an Ohio-based trade lawyer and partner in the firm Dickinson Wright who specializes in Canada-U.S. business.
“I think there's a very real question of if this even comes up for a vote in 2019.”
Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton, whose outreach efforts were heralded as key in securing USMCA, will be back at it later in January, working to convince lawmakers on Capitol Hill to support the deal — and also to convince the White House to exempt Canada from its punitive regime of steel and aluminum tariffs.