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Pelosi walks tightrope over dueling announcements on impeachment and USMCA deal

Pelosi on trade and impeachment announcements

Washington — Tuesday was a tale of two press conferences on Capitol Hill, orchestrated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat hopscotched from an announcement of articles of impeachment against President Trump to take a victory lap over a deal with the White House on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, or USMCA.

At the first appearance in the Capitol's stately Rayburn Room shortly after 9 a.m., Pelosi spoke of Congress's "solemn" duty to act as a check on the president before ceding the floor to the Judiciary Committee chairman to announce impeachment articles accusing the president of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. At the second press conference, Pelosi was flanked by about two dozen Democratic lawmakers, the atmosphere joyful as she touted the newly forged deal on USMCA.

If she experienced any cognitive dissonance over slapping the president with impeachment articles before handing him a bipartisan legislative victory, Pelosi did not betray it to reporters. When asked by CBS News' Nancy Cordes if it was a "coincidence" that the two announcements were made on the same day, Pelosi swiftly responded that it was not. Congress only has one more week before a long recess, and that means multitasking, she said.

"No, it's not a coincidence. It's just that as we get to the end of a session, there have to be some decisions made," Pelosi said. She added that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer also wanted USMCA to be approved quickly.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks through the Capitol on Tuesday, December 10, 2019. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

"We didn't know what day it would be, but the trade representative, Ambassador Lighthizer, who was quite remarkable to work with, he shared our values. He understood why we could not accept the Trump administration product, and he wanted to get this signed by the Mexicans and the Canadians," Pelosi said, highlighting concessions Democrats won from the White House to bring the agreement to a vote. "When you're dealing with something like this, it could be perishable. So he wanted to close while we were all in agreement, and therefore we came to agreement and we go forward."

Pelosi has drawn criticism from the left for handing the president a political victory by negotiating over USMCA, a revamp of NAFTA and a key campaign promise of the president.

"Nothing more perfectly embodies the Democratic party than announcing articles of impeachment and a huge deal with the President on his single biggest priority on the same day," MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes said in a tweet Monday evening.

But Pelosi argued it was more important to finalize the trade deal, which was quickly endorsed by the AFL-CIO, than to focus single-mindedly on taking the president down.

"We're declaring a victory for the American worker," Pelosi said. "Not any one of us is important enough to hold up a trade agreement." She said Democrats had received significant concessions from Republicans, and the deal negotiated by members of Congress is "infinitely better than what was proposed by the administration."

Speaking at a conference hosted by Politico later on Tuesday, Pelosi said the USMCA deal "isn't about politics or giving the president a win," and that Congress shouldn't walk away from a deal that benefits Americans because the president is involved.

But the deal also holds undeniable political benefits for the 40-odd freshmen Democratic lawmakers who flipped Republican seats in 2018, many of whom promised to work with Mr. Trump when necessary and were wary of impeachment before the Ukraine scandal. Several of these members were at the podium with Pelosi as she made her announcement, including Congressman Colin Allred of Texas, Congresswoman Lucy McBath of Georgia and Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer of Iowa.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accompanied by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill on December 10, 2019. Susan Walsh / AP

While Pelosi insisted that impeachment and USMCA were separate fights, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested she was announcing a deal on USMCA to distract from an unpopular impeachment inquiry.

"If you need any more evidence of how unpopular impeachment is, watch the two press conferences today. After announcing impeachment, within less than an hour the speaker finally relented and said she would bring USMCA up," McCarthy said in a press conference of his own Tuesday. He noted that Pelosi waited a year to bring the trade deal to the floor, although he did not mention that Democrats were negotiating with the administration during that time.

"At no time when she would bring this bill up was there ever fear of it not passing. But the only reason she finally relented is because of the unpopularity of impeachment itself," McCarthy continued.

The House is expected to vote to impeach the president and to approve USMCA next week before leaving for the Christmas holiday, setting up the prospect of the House approving both on the same day. Congress must also approve the National Defense Authorization Act and 12 spending bills to fund the government ahead of its scheduled departure on December 20.

Despite the news cycle accelerating at breakneck speed, Pelosi appears to be unfazed.

Fox News reporter Chad Pergram mentioned to Pelosi that reporters were feeling "whiplash" from the whirlwind developments.

"The day is young," Pelosi replied with a smile, as reporters laughed nervously.

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