Dems give Trump a big win on trade as they issue articles of impeachment

Dems give Trump a big win on trade as they issue articles of impeachment
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

It's hard to avoid whiplash reading today's news. This morning, House democrats released two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump--one for abusing the power of his office to coerce the Ukrainian government into assisting in his re-election campaign and another for obstructing Congress's investigation into his actions. At the same time, it was announced that they had struck a deal with the regime to advance the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA), also known as NAFTA 2.0.

It's hard to see how giving Trump a big, much-needed win on one of his signature issues--a win that will presumably be accompanied by a Rose Garden announcement and bipartisan signing ceremony--is anything short of political malpractice.

Such a gift to Trump is inexplicable both on the policy merits and in terms of the politics.

Democrats reportedly wanted a show of bipartisanship to blunt criticism that their impeachment of Donald Trump is merely an act of partisan warfare untethered to larger principles like upholding the rule of law or maintaining the separation of powers. It's hard to imagine that they actually believe pushing "NAFTA with a fake mustache," as one commenter referred to it, could have that effect. If they do, it would reveal a fundamental lack of understanding of the media environment in which they operate. Democrats will never be credited for "reaching across the aisle" by a political press that's incapable of reporting events in any framework other than partisan conflict. That's especially true of impeachment, which they've covered like any other horse race.

In a Tuesday press conference, Pelosi insisted that the final deal is "way far away from what the president proposed" and claimed that "he yielded.” But Republicans were quick to bash her for sitting on the bill for over a year--which is false--and claimed she had "acquiesced" to Trump. Given that replacing NAFTA, which Trump consistently called "the worst deal ever made" while on the campaign trail, it's a safe bet that he owns this issue in the minds of both the public and the press, and will be given credit despite the fact that the new NAFTA isn't much different from the old one.

Trump is reportedly concerned that if either Warren or Sanders become the Democratic nominee, their proposals for tackling student debt and similar measures will challenge his (undeserved) "populist" mantle. While the USMCA is hardly the win for workers the regime will portray it as, it is an improvement over NAFTA, strengthening worker protections and killing off the highly unpopular "investor-state" dispute resolution system and eliminating some incentives for offshoring jobs. The improvements are more than enough to allow the regime to spin it as a great example of deal-making and a campaign promise kept.

It's no clearer why the substance of the policy would inspire Democratic leaders to move the USMCA now. It's unlikely to pass the Senate in an election year, especially with a couple of months lopped off of the legislative calendar by an impeachment trial. Donors probably want it passed for whatever goodies they lobbied for, and because they want predictable conditions for trade moving forward. But after 25 years of NAFTA, the North American economies' rules are harmonized to a degree that didn't just go away when Trump announced he was pulling out of the deal. It's hardly the top trade priority with Trump's half-cocked tradewars simmering with China, the EU and others. And again, Trump will get credit and a nice photo-op for striking a deal with the House but probably won't get it through the Senate before his term is up.

The only coherent reason for giving Trump a ready-made campaign ad titled "The Jobs President" is that passing NAFTA 2.0 might give centrist Democrats from swing-districts something to talk about rather than impeachment. If that's the calculus--if it's about protecting Reps. like Abigail Spanberger and Max Rose--it seems like an enormous price to pay.

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