McConnell Rules Out Vote on New Nafta Trade Deal Before 2019

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s renegotiated trade deal with Mexico and Canada won’t get a vote in Congress this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, setting up a potential contentious fight with Democrats next year over a signature White House accomplishment.

“My trade advisers say you can’t possibly do it under the various steps that we have to go through. I had not heard that it might be possible to address it this year,” McConnell said in an interview with Bloomberg News Tuesday in Washington.

Waiting until next year for Congress to approve the measure opens the possibility for Democrats to seek concessions from the White House if the party wins a majority in the House in midterm elections Nov. 6.

McConnell Rules Out Vote on New Nafta Trade Deal Before 2019

McConnell said he has not had conversations with the White House about passing the agreement this year. “There’s no question this will be on the top of the agenda" next year, he said.

The White House last month reached a deal with its two closest trading partners to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump rebranded it as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and praised it as a historic achievement. After 13 months of negotiations and several threats by Trump to withdraw from Nafta, the U.S. business community and many lawmakers expressed cautious optimism, a sentiment McConnell echoed.

“There was a lot of relief that at least in this hemisphere with the Mexicans and the Canadians we seem to have reached a settlement,” he said.

Some senior Republican senators, including Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, have been angling for a vote this year to avoid dealing with a potentially Democratic-controlled House.

China Strategy

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, however, said last week that it was not a “foregone conclusion” that the agreement will be approved by the Senate and warned that the time frame might be too short to fulfill the required steps that are laid out in U.S. trade law.

Asked about the administration’s trade policy more broadly, including U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, McConnell said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach. He said Trump “deserves to have a little slack cut here and that’s what we’re doing” to improve America’s trade relationships in the longer term, he said.

“I’m not a big fan of tariffs but I’m certainly happy we seem to have settled the situation with Canada and Mexico,” McConnell said in the interview. “And if the short-term trade war ends up producing a better relationship with China, that would be great.”

The situation with China “is not good,” he said. “They’ve been eating our lunch for years and if the president can improve that situation, I think that would be widely applauded.”

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