The newly revised NAFTA – which is apparently supposed to be called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) – is a rather unique issue. In fact, while much of Donald Trump’s legislative agenda is dead, the renegotiated NAFTA is the one priority the president expects Congress to advance ahead of the 2020 elections.
That won’t be an easy lift, but White House officials have nevertheless spent recent months doing something unfamiliar: they’ve reached out to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), trying to persuade her on the plan’s merits, and hoping to get her help advancing the plan through Congress.
For her part, the California Democrat realizes this gives her some leverage over Trump, which is why she’s been weighing what to ask for in exchange for passing the president’s top legislative priority.
All of which set the stage for yesterday, when Trump said the House Speaker isn’t smart enough to understand his tremendous trade deal.
“I don’t think Nancy Pelosi understands the deal. It’s too complicated. But it’s not a complicated deal. It’s actually not a complicated deal. […]
“I just don’t know what she’s going to do with USMCA. It’s going to be one of the great trade deals of all time…. We made a great deal. But whether or not Pelosi understands it, or whether – I don’t think she’s capable right now of understanding it. I think she’s got a lot of problems.”
He went on to call the Democratic leader “Crazy Nancy,” before adding, “She’s lost it.” In reference to the trade deal, Trump, who appears to know very little about the details of the agreement, also said, “She’s got to get up to snuff, learn the bill…. Pelosi does not understand the bill. She doesn’t understand it. “
It’s easy to push back against the cheap rhetoric and explain that Pelosi, in reality, is not experiencing some kind of mental decline. It’s equally easy to note the irony of these kinds of allegations coming from Donald Trump, of all people.
But what’s especially interesting is the president’s legislative strategy. The Republican is effectively telling Congress’ most powerful lawmaker, “I need your help to pass this trade deal, which you’re too crazy and dumb to understand.”
It’s not as if Pelosi is reflexively inclined to kill NAFTA 2.0. The Speaker has expressed some mild skepticism, but she’s also suggested the trade deal may ultimately pass her chamber. It’s why the White House – not the president, of course, but several other officials – have taken care to work with Pelosi in good faith.
It’s also why it was so bizarre to see Trump go out of his way to antagonize Pelosi yesterday – not just in general, but specifically on her approach to the trade deal the president is so eager to see pass.
I didn’t write Art of the Deal – then again, neither did Trump – but if I wanted a lawmaker’s help with a bill, I’d probably avoid publicly insulting her and telling the world she’s not sharp enough to understand my priority.
Maybe it won’t matter. Perhaps Pelosi has learned to simply ignore Trump’s tantrums, taunts, and tirades. Maybe she’ll weigh the USMCA on its merits and decide how to proceed without regard for the president’s ironic insults.
But if you were a president looking for a favor, would you risk it?