Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. to the chamber to vote at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 10, 2016.
Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Some Trump allies aren’t impressed with more progressive NAFTA 2.0

Updated

House Democratic leaders announced yesterday morning that they’re now on board with the revised NAFTA proposal, called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The White House, not surprisingly, is delighted, and Donald Trump is celebrating.

Some of the president’s allies, however, aren’t nearly as pleased. Politico noted Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) dissatisfaction, for example.

The conservative Pennsylvanian lambasted the deal on Tuesday as a potential drag on the economy and a capitulation to Democratic labor demands, becoming by far its most outspoken GOP opponent. Toomey’s criticism comes right as President Donald Trump prepares for an event in Hershey, Pa., on Tuesday night where he’s sure to tout the deal.

“There are serious problems with this agreement,” Toomey told reporters, adding that it would be a “big mistake” to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement in the coming weeks.

The GOP senator added that the trade deal has “clearly moved way to the left.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was diplomatic about his concerns, though he conceded, “From my perspective, it’s not as good as I had hoped.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) added that he feared the Trump administration may have given “away the store” in order to secure Democratic support.

As it happens, Democratic leaders are thinking along the same lines. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reportedly boasted to her conference at a closed-door caucus meeting yesterday, “We ate their lunch.”

It’s worth appreciating why. The Washington Post raised a point that stood out for me:

The moves reflect Trump’s eagerness to secure legislative accomplishments he can highlight during his 2020 presidential campaign, as well as the White House’s confidence that it risks little backlash from a GOP increasingly molded in Trump’s image, according to congressional and administration aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics.

Is it any wonder the House Speaker, to borrow her phrase, ate the Trump administration’s lunch on this? Pelosi had specific policy goals in mind, while the president’s principal focus was on checking a box.

Trump has never demonstrated even the most basic familiarity with NAFTA – a deal he claims to hate for reasons he’s struggled to explain – and during USMCA negotiations, the Republican was more concerned with the agreement’s name than its provisions. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reported last fall that Trump’s priority was “rebranding” NAFTA, and the administration’s delegation described a name-change for the agreement as “non-negotiable.”

Toomey, to his credit, appears to actually care about some of the substantive elements, and he doesn’t appear altogether pleased that his party’s president was indifferent to the policy details.

Senator, if you read this, welcome to my world. I’ve been banging the drum on the GOP’s “post-policy” problem for years. (Rumor has it I might even have a book on the subject coming out next year.)