President Trump’s reelection campaign is taking a victory lap with the implementation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal this week and using it against his prospective opponent.
The pact, which supersedes the North American Free Trade Agreement that Trump has long opposed, is seen as a fulfillment of the president’s campaign promise to renegotiate “bad trade deals.” The Trump team is highlighting presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s 1993 vote for NAFTA as a senator from Delaware and tucking the new deal into its pitch for the president as a U.S. job creator.
“President Trump promised to put America First and get rid of Biden’s job-killing NAFTA. He kept his promise,” said the Trump campaign’s Abigail Marone. “When Biden voted for NAFTA, he said Americans’ concerns about losing their jobs were ‘vastly overblown,’ but just like with everything else in his life, he was wrong.” Team Trump has cited a study that found NAFTA “displaced” 850,000 jobs in the United States.
“Thanks to the bold leadership of President Trump, the agreement will mean stronger economic growth, more jobs for American workers, and fairer trade for our country,” said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany in a statement. “President Trump has delivered for American manufacturers, farmers, businesses, and workers.”
The trade deal is a rare bipartisan victory during has been shaping up to be a tough summer for Trump. The general manager of FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative hailed its implementation as a “cause for celebration.” The head of the Retail Industry Leaders Association said that the USMCA “strengthens two of our most important trading relationships and creates certainty for retailers to invest, plan for the future, create jobs, and provide consumers with the widest possible selection of affordable and quality products.”
Critics have called the USMCA a mild, protectionist revision of NAFTA. “For the first time in American history, we’re enacting a trade agreement that restricts free trade and reduces economic growth,” protested Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican. “Unlike its predecessor NAFTA, USMCA contains many protectionist provisions that are designed to reduce the exchange of goods between the United States and Mexico.” Toomey called it an “antitrade agreement” in a late 2019 Wall Street Journal op-ed, lambasting its tariff increases.
Yet the USMCA easily passed in the Senate 89 to 10, with Toomey the only Republican who voted against it and the only senator who opposed the agreement on free trade grounds. Sen. Bernie Sanders, with whom Trump has cited common ground on trade, also voted against it, as did three other Democrats who unsuccessfully sought the party’s presidential nomination. It passed the House late last year 385 to 41.
NAFTA was originally negotiated by George H.W. Bush, but Bill Clinton led the charge for its congressional approval. While it passed with bipartisan support, a left-right coalition sprang up in opposition the agreement that included populists Ross Perot, who warned of a “giant sucking sound” of jobs leaving the country if it were passed, and Pat Buchanan — both of whom are considered Trump’s ideological forerunners.
Trump made NAFTA a major part of his case against Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, calling it the worst trade deal ever negotiated. He also opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership and promised tariffs on China until Beijing opened its markets to more U.S. goods. Trade negotiations with China are have not been finalized.
These populist economic nationalist stances were a departure from recent Republican orthodoxy on trade that helped him break through in the Rust Belt, winning states that hadn’t voted Republican at the presidential level since Ronald Reagan was in the White House.
The Trump campaign hopes for a reprise against Biden. To coincide with the USMCA taking effect, it debuted “Killing Jobs — the Biden Record on Trade.” The document highlights Biden’s support for expanded trade with China as well as NAFTA. The Trump rapid response team sent around a clip of the former vice president saying he was not an “expert on international trade matters,” adding that “Biden’s track record for supporting terrible trade policy is extensive.” The Republican National Committee unveiled a new digital ad promoting Trump and the USMCA, which the administration is claiming could create anywhere from 176,000 to 600,000 new jobs.
As Trump has celebrated the USMCA, he has also pointed to figures showing that the economy added 4.8 million jobs in June. Most polls continue to show that pluralities prefer Trump, a longtime businessman, to deal with the economy, even as he falls behind Biden nationally and in key battleground states.
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