A key Republican senator sounded a dim note Wednesday about the House's chances of passing President Donald Trump's North American trade deal replacement this year.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Senate Finance Committee chairman who represents the major agricultural state of Iowa, said the Democratic-held House "seems to have no sense of urgency" to approve the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The GOP lawmaker contended the chamber "looks increasingly less likely to act this year" on ratifying the White House's replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"That threatens passage of the trilateral deal this Congress, as next year is a presidential election year," Grassley said.
Grassley's comments come amid increasing Republican pressure on Democrats to approve the trade agreement, one of the GOP's top economic and political goals ahead of the 2020 elections. Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have publicly called on the House to pass USMCA this week.
Trump tweeted Tuesday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is "taking too long" to approve the deal. Along with Grassley, several other GOP senators took to the chamber's floor Wednesday to push for the agreement's passage.
By ratifying USMCA, Trump hopes to follow through on one of his key campaign promises: to overhaul trade agreements that he and many Democrats say sapped American jobs in favor of cheaper labor overseas. Businesses rattled by the president's trade war with China have also sought certainty in the critical Canada and Mexico markets. The U.S. sends more goods to Canada than other country, while Mexico is the second-largest American export market.
Democrats, who are in negotiations with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, have pushed for assurances that the three countries can enforce labor and environmental standards designed to shield U.S. manufacturing jobs and stem climate change. On Thursday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sent a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., pledging to fully implement labor reforms that aim to boost wages and worker bargaining power in Mexico.
On Thursday, Pelosi said, "I can honestly say that I think we're becoming closer" to moving forward with the deal.
A spokesman for Pelosi did not immediately respond to a request to comment on Grassley's remarks Wednesday.
Powerful business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have pushed for swift passage of USMCA. Organized labor has been less enthusiastic: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently told The Washington Post that the deal "would be defeated" if the House voted on it before Thanksgiving.
Mexico has ratified USMCA, but Canada has not.