A top labor leader said President Donald Trump “missed the mark” Friday when he contended House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not approve a new North American trade deal because of union pressure.
Speaking to “Fox and Friends,” the president said “I predict [Pelosi] won’t do USMCA,” the White House’s replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement. House Democrats have not yet ratified the deal as they seek better enforcement of labor standards. Trump claimed AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka “has [Pelosi] mortified” and “plays her like a fiddle.”
Responding to Trump in a series of tweets Friday, Trumka said “the notion that anybody could play [Pelosi] like a fiddle is laughable.” The head of AFL-CIO, a federation of unions that collectively represent 12.5 million people, added that Pelosi “wants the same thing we do: an enforceable agreement that actually works for workers.”
“As I’ve said for months, if the new NAFTA benefits workers, we’d support it. It’s simply not there yet,” Trumka said in one of the tweets.
More than a year after the U.S., Mexico and Canada announced the trade deal known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, the Democratic-controlled House is pushing for final tweaks. The White House, Republican lawmakers and some business organizations have pressured Democrats to ratify USMCA before the end of the year, when the 2020 elections will command Washington’s attention.
Democrats have repeatedly pointed to progress as they negotiate an agreement with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Pelosi and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Thursday, but left without a deal.
After the meeting, a spokesman for Pelosi said “we can reach an agreement on USMCA when the Trade Representative makes the agreement enforceable for American workers.” The California Democrat and top labor unions have worried about the nations’ ability to carry out reforms meant to boost wages in Mexico and deter U.S. companies from moving jobs south.
A Pelosi spokesman did not respond to CNBC’s request to comment on Trump’s Friday remarks to Fox News.
Before the House can approve USMCA, the Trump administration needs to submit a bill to ratify it. When the White House sends the legislation, it kicks off a 90-day period for Congress to pass the agreement.
While Mexico has ratified the trade deal, Canada has waited to approve it while it monitors progress in the U.S.
Leaving the meeting with Lighthizer on Thursday, Neal said it was still “possible” to ratify USMCA in 2019. Earlier in the day, Pelosi said “I’m not even sure if we came to an agreement today that it would be enough time to finish” before the end of the year.
Roiled by the Trump administration’s trade conflicts, various industries have pushed for Congress to approve the deal as they seek certainty in two important markets. Canada and Mexico were the two largest U.S. export destinations last year.