Government

Iowa senators optimistic on North American trade deal

The Republicans focus on Democrat Nancy Pelosi's actions

Sen. Chuck Grassley answers a question at a town hall meeting at the public library in Anamosa on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. Grassley answered questions on topics ranging from trade to immigration and social security. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Sen. Chuck Grassley answers a question at a town hall meeting at the public library in Anamosa on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. Grassley answered questions on topics ranging from trade to immigration and social security. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley recently met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi to offer his help winning U.S. House passage of a North American trade agreement.

“I’m not sure there’s much I can do in the House to help her,” Grassley, who had served six years in the House, said Tuesday during a stop in Anamosa. But he wanted the California Democrat to know he would do what he could to help her win approval of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a reboot of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Grassley is optimistic Pelosi “wants to get to yes” on the USMCA. It won’t be easy because several freshman members of the majority party want to add labor and environmental regulations to the agreement negotiated by the three countries to replace the Clinton-era NAFTA.

“She has more new members since 1974 ... and (Pelosi) has got to make sure they’re satisfied,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst was not as confident in Pelosi’s efforts. Speaking Monday to the Cedar Rapids Downtown Rotary Club, she said Pelosi is “slow-walking” the bill.

Friday was the first day the Trump administration could deliver the agreement to the House, Ernst said. If it wins committee approval, it will get a House vote.

Ernst believes there’s enough support in the Democratic-controlled House to ratify the agreement and she doesn’t see any obstacles in the GOP-controlled Senate.

“By and large, Americans think it’s a good way to go,” she said.

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Mexico has approved the USMCA and Grassley said he’s been assured by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government it has the necessary votes to pass the agreement. Trudeau wants to know how U.S. ratification is progressing before he asks his Parliament to act on the agreement.

Republicans Grassley and Ernst are concerned that House Democrats may try to make changes to the USMCA. Pelosi previously called for opening up the USMCA to full renegotiations.

“Democrats moving the goal posts,” Ernst said about their calls for additional changes. “If we change the base of the bill, Canada and Mexico have to start over.”

Without opening the USMCA to full negotiations, Grassley said, Democrats might be able to address their labor and environmental concerns through “side letters” that spell out how the United States expects the agreement to work.

Grassley doubts Mexico would pass a second version of USMCA.

He said Pelosi has people meeting with Trump advisers to work out differences in the deal “and then she’ll be comfortable bringing it up.”

“We just have to be patient with her,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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