Trump Signs New Trade Deal With Mexico And Canada Into Law
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Before senators took their seats as jurors in President Trump's impeachment trial today, many of the Republicans were at the White House. President Trump signed into law the new trade deal with Mexico and Canada that updates NAFTA. And he took the time to single out every Republican senator in attendance.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Senator Grassley - where's Chuck? Where is Chuck? Oh, he was brutal. Mike Braun - he's become a big fixture on television and doing a great job. Ted Cruz - boy, has he been - where is Ted? Boy, oh, boy. And he's dying to get back there and ask those questions. I know.
CHANG: And on it went.
NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now from the White House. Hey, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: So that sounded like quite the charm offensive there. What did that...
CHANG: ...Look like?
LIASSON: Well, he's pouring on the charm for Republican senators who, of course, are facing some very big decisions when they go back to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue - whether to allow witnesses at the president's impeachment trial; later, of course, whether to vote for his conviction or acquittal. And he certainly didn't try to hide what he was doing.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TRUMP: And maybe I'm being just nice to them 'cause I want their vote. Does that make sense?
TRUMP: I don't want to leave anybody out.
CHANG: At least he's admitting it, right?
LIASSON: He's admitting it. He made sure they were all in the television shot. He handed out handfuls of his trademark black Sharpie pens as souvenirs. And this is kind of a outward sign of the pressure that's been going on for weeks around impeachment, making sure Republican senators stay in line. There've been movie nights, visits to Camp David, a lot of schmoozing. But of course, the biggest pressure point is just what would happen if they break with him and he decides to take revenge or call them out on Twitter because he has such a strong hold on the Republican base.
CHANG: Well, are you getting the sense that there are signs that Republicans will break with him and call for witnesses in this impeachment trial?
LIASSON: There aren't signs that four Republicans will break with him. That's the number that would be needed.
LIASSON: The ones who say they do want witnesses - Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah - that just isn't enough. And we haven't heard from other senators, like Lisa Murkowski or Lamar Alexander. None of those senators who are considered possible votes for witnesses were at that signing ceremony today.
CHANG: OK. Well, meanwhile, House Democrats held their own press conference today. And here's what House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal said about the president's ceremony.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
RICHARD NEAL: The only reason that the president is having this signing today is because of what we did as House Democrats.
CHANG: I mean, this trade deal - it was a bipartisan affair. Were any Democrats at the White House?
LIASSON: Absolutely not. And most presidents like to trumpet bipartisan victories to show that they can reach across the aisle. But more Democrats in the House voted for USMCA than Republicans did. And it's true. He couldn't have passed this without Democrats.
The actual agreement moved to the left. Democrats got a lot of things they wanted. They got more labor enforcement. They got environmental enforcement. They got enforcement on drug pricing. It went so far to the left that the AFL-CIO endorsed it. They certainly didn't do that for NAFTA. So this is a deal that was bipartisan. He just didn't want to say it was.
And remember, all this is happening at the same time as impeachment. The House vote to approve USMCA happened the day after Democrats voted to impeach the president. That was December 19. And it just goes to show you that, yes, Congress and the president can walk and chew gum at the same time.
CHANG: Well, given that the Democrats got so much of what they wanted out of this trade deal, how big of a political victory is this trade deal for President Trump?
LIASSON: It's a big political victory for him because he promised to overhaul NAFTA. He said that was a nightmare, and he kept his promise - so big political victory. Substantively, it's much more of a tweak and an upgrade of NAFTA than a wholesale rewriting. And an independent trade group estimates that it will only raise U.S. GDP by about 0.35% percent.
CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Mara Liasson at the White House. Thank you, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.