/USMCA frustrations grow among House Democrats excluded from Trump talks

USMCA frustrations grow among House Democrats excluded from Trump talks

Dan Kildee

“Obviously, for the folks who are not in the working group, there’s a frustration not being in the room,” said Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee.

Tensions are rising in the House Democratic caucus as a number of members say they feel they are being kept in the dark while nine of their colleagues negotiate changes to the new North American trade pact with the Trump administration.

Members of the working group House Speaker Nancy Pelosi selected to secure changes to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement say they have begun to make progress in talks with President Donald Trump’s trade chief. But because much of the information is privileged, and because both sides signed agreements pledging not to reveal details, there’s little they say they can share with Democrats who were not chosen for the nine-member team.

Story Continued Below

That’s begun to frustrate some House Democrats who are outside the process and want to offer input, especially members of the Ways and Means Committee’s trade panel. Some members are unsure how they would vote on the deal and, as pressure is mounting for them to hold a vote as soon as possible, they’re having a particularly hard time knowing what to say when discussing the USMCA publicly.

Rising tensions boiled over at a meeting of Ways and Means Democrats this week, where some lawmakers pressed committee leaders and staff for more information but were repeatedly shut down, six people present at the meeting told POLITICO.

“Obviously, for the folks who are not in the working group, there’s a frustration not being in the room,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who sits on the trade subcommittee but not on the negotiating team.

“There’s some anxiety around it, and for a lot of folks who don’t know where they’re going to land on the ultimate question, it makes it more difficult, because you don’t know what to weigh in on,” he added.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill for months in an effort to garner their support for the NAFTA replacement deal. Lighthizer has held dozens of meetings with all factions of the Democratic caucus to hear their concerns about the pact.

But in recent months, he has solely focused on negotiations with the working group, as he tries to find a way to move toward an agreement that Pelosi would put up for a vote.

It was Lighthizer’s biggest move to date in the talks — and the most tangible sign of progress — that provided the latest source of irritation for the Democrats who feel like they are being left out of the process.

Lighthizer last week sent proposals to lawmakers detailing how the Trump administration would make changes to the USMCA to address Democrats’ prevailing concerns on enforcement, labor and environmental standards and drug pricing provisions. Democrats had demanded a formal response from the administration for weeks.

But four Democrats on the trade subcommittee told POLITICO they have not seen the specifics of Lighthizer’s counteroffer.

“There are members on the committee, especially on the trade subcommittee, that take this job very serious. And in order to take it serious, you have to know what’s going on,” said Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), a Ways and Means trade subcommittee member who’s not in the working group. “So I think there needs to be more of an appreciation for those types of members, including myself, that we want to be able to know things about the deal within certain confidentiality aspects of it.”

Ways and Means members used Wednesday’s meeting to “ensure that we’re able to do our job by getting the information — in the appropriate venue, with the appropriate security precautions that we have to take — and just to let leadership know that we’re here to work, not just to follow,” Panetta said.

Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who also leads the USMCA working group, said when asked about the concerns within the caucus that he has tried to share as much information as possible with lawmakers, but certain materials exchanged with USTR are “privileged information.”

“Part of this you have to be careful with because it is privileged information, according to the law, but I don’t see any reason why — and I’ve encouraged the Ways and Means trade staff to brief the members of the subcommittee,” Neal told POLITICO.

Other Democrats said they understand why the negotiations are being handled the way they are. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), another member of the Ways and Means trade panel who is not one of the USMCA nine, said it was “completely forgivable” that trade subcommittee members have not been in the loop, as Pelosi opted to create a working group that included lawmakers from across the Democratic spectrum.

“If Nancy wants to get to, say, a majority of the Democratic caucus members to move for it [USMCA ratification], it was really important they be part of the discussion,” Beyer said. He noted how Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) — two members of the working group who have been against free trade deals in the past — were included in the negotiations.

Beyer acknowledged the meeting got tense, but added: “In general, it’s a family. We get through it.”

Sarah Ferris and Aaron Lorenzo contributed to this report.

Please follow and like us:
Original Source