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Senate committee approves U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, paving way for full Senate vote

Bipartisan deals made despite impeachment

The Senate Finance Committee approved the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico on Tuesday, sending it to the Senate floor for a full vote, where it is expected to pass easily.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA) was advanced by the committee with a vote of 25 to 3, although three committee members abstained from voting.

The House passed the USMCA by a bipartisan vote in December. The deal is President Trump's attempt to improve upon NAFTA, the hemispheric trade deal negotiated by President Clinton. Mr. Trump made repealing NAFTA a signature promise of his campaign.

If the Senate ratifies the deal, as expected, it will hand Mr. Trump a legislative victory amid turmoil for the administration, with a looming impeachment trial in the Senate and discord over the president's decision to kill an Iranian military leader earlier this month.

Although there was overwhelming support for the deal in the Finance Committee, Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey slammed the deal as being a downgrade from NAFTA.

"It's the first time we're ever going to go backwards on a trade agreement," Toomey said during the committee markup on the deal, adding that the deal was "designed to restrict trade and investment."

Toomey was one of the three senators who did not vote, along with Republican Senator Bill Cassidy and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.

However, most Republicans on the committee supported the deal. Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley lauded Mr. Trump for following through on his promise to upgrade NAFTA in his opening statement.

"President Trump promised to deliver a strong, updated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that would reflect the realities of the twenty-first century. He promised that it would command broad support. President Trump delivered," Grassley said. "The bill before us today has something in it for everyone, and it's not often that we can say that about an implementing bill."

In his opening statement, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking member of the committee, repeatedly called USMCA "the new NAFTA." Instead of praising Mr. Trump for his leadership on trade, Wyden touted the work of Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, who had urged the administration to include provisions that strengthened workers' rights.

"When the Trump administration sent up the first version of this new NAFTA agreement, it was just more of the status quo. It didn't cut it. The language they wrote on enforcement didn't actually enforce anything. It was business as usual. So I talked with Senator Brown, who's been a crusader for tough enforcement as long as anybody, and we decided to fix it," Wyden said.

Wyden also praised U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, whom he called "the hardest working man in the trade agreement business."

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