President Trump this weekend brushed off warnings from lawmakers who want to see Canada included in a revamped North American trade deal, saying he would cancel the existing North American Free Trade Agreement if the Hill interferes with negotiations.
One day after the White House announced that it would notify Congress of plans to sign a new trade deal with Mexico — "and with Canada if it is willing" — within 90 days, Trump took to Twitter to answer members of both parties who want to see a trilateral deal that includes Canada.
"There is no political necessity to keep Canada in the new NAFTA deal. If we don't make a fair deal for the U.S. after decades of abuse, Canada will be out. Congress should not interfere w/ these negotiations or I will simply terminate NAFTA entirely & we will be far better off," Trump tweeted Saturday.
"Remember, NAFTA was one of the WORST Trade Deals ever made. The U.S. lost thousands of businesses and millions of jobs. We were far better off before NAFTA — should never have been signed. Even the Vat Tax was not accounted for. We make new deal or go back to pre-NAFTA!"
Despite the president's threats, it's unclear whether he can unilaterally cancel NAFTA if ongoing negotiations with Canada, which will resume tomorrow, fail to produce a revamped three-party agreement.
Additionally, GOP trade advocates, including Senate Finance Committee member Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.), have questioned whether a bilateral trade deal with Mexico can qualify for fast-track trade authority rules under a 2015 law.
Otherwise, Toomey said, the deal could not be approved under fast-track authority that requires only a simple majority to advance in the Senate. The need to obtain 60 votes in the Senate for a trade deal would only make it that much harder for the White House to see its campaign pledge for a new NAFTA take effect.
A senior administration official told reporters Friday that the White House believes its notification to Congress of a trade deal with Mexico "and hopefully with Canada" will be "fully compliant and eligible for fast-track" voting that can avoid a Senate filibuster.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) last week acknowledged procedural confusion about whether the administration can submit a bilateral agreement with just Mexico under fast-track rules but said he hoped it would persuade Canada to redouble efforts to strike its own deal with the United States.
"Hopefully Canada gets on board pretty quick, they do the 90-day notice and we approve it," he told E&E News.
Friday's notification to Congress gives the administration 30 days to submit text of a trade deal to the Hill for lawmakers to peruse.
While Trump plans to sign a new trade deal by the end of November, Congress is unlikely to vote on any agreement until 2019, creating further uncertainty should Democrats manage to wrest control of one or more chambers in the November elections.
Key GOP lawmakers have made clear they want to see Canada included. Those talks appeared to grow more difficult at the end of last week, when off-the-record comments about Canada that Trump made in an interview with Bloomberg News leaked.
In comments made to Bloomberg's reporters last week, which Trump later confirmed via Twitter, the president indicated he was unwilling to make concessions to Canada. "Off the record: totally on our terms. Totally," he said.
Few details have been released on the preliminary agreement struck with Mexico last week, although the administration has signaled that it will largely retain the existing investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process for energy companies that is in the current NAFTA (E&E Daily, Aug. 28).
The administration has also touted the U.S.-Mexico deal as having "enforceable" environmental and labor safeguards, but environmentalists are already calling on Congress to reject it.
"The only thing Donald Trump has succeeded at is taking a failed trade deal originally crafted by polluters and multinational corporations and updating it with the help of even more polluters and multinational corporations all while alienating America's closest allies to try and score political points," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.
"This rushed, noxious deal is a shameful demonstration of Trump's desire to favor his own political interests and those of corporate polluters at the expense of the millions of working families and communities in the U.S. and across North America," Brune said.
Congressional angst over Trump's "America first" trade agenda will be on display when the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee separately hear testimony from administration and industry officials on trade matters.
Reporter George Cahlink contributed.