Impeachment Inquiry To Delay USMCA, Ernst Says

Dec 12, 2019

Iowans will likely have to wait until the New Year for the U.S. Senate to sign off on the new NAFTA trade deal, due to the timeline of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

This week leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives announced they had struck a deal with President Donald Trump on his signature trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, known officially as the USMCA, also referred to as the new NAFTA.

That notice came about an hour after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the chamber’s articles of impeachment against the president, for alleged abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The full House is slated to vote on the articles of impeachment as soon as next week, after which the Senate will decide whether to convict the president and remove him from office.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, says she hasn’t been persuaded by the evidence in the case against the president.

Ernst criticized House Democrats for calling on some witness with secondhand knowledge of the events, but also told reporters she’s not sure if further testimony is necessary.

The first-term senator, who is up for re-election in 2020, said she’s standing with President Trump.

“What they have offered up as their articles of impeachment, I don’t see any evidence that supports impeachment at this point," she said. "Now maybe there’s some rabbit in a hat that the Democrats are going to pull out during the trial which you know…might sway members.”

Questioned by reporters on Thursday, Ernst said she has seen no evidence that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 elections. That debunked conspiracy theory is central to the inquiry, and the president’s alleged abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Ernst says the timeline of the impeachment inquiry means approval of the USMCA trade deal in the Senate will likely get bumped to next year.

“We already have a number of things scheduled in the Senate next week,” Ernst said. “As they vote on the impeachment trial, or the articles of impeachment, that will have to be taken up in the Senate as well and USMCA will likely fall after that.”

Having the deal in place is a relief for farmers and producers.

But analysts say the agreement won’t revolutionize U.S. trade policy in the way President Trump campaigned on.

USMCA does lay out new mandates for car manufacturers in Mexico, setting higher wage standards and opening the door for unionization in the country. The deal would also allow American dairy producers to sell more of their products to Canada, where dairy markets are strictly controlled to stabilize prices and prevent overproduction.  

Iowa’s senior U.S. senator, Chuck Grassley has said the new deal is 95 percent “the same as NAFTA." This week he said he wished the agreement had gone farther, but that it still amounts to an improvement for overall U.S. trade policy.