Missing an opportunity, Trump excludes Dems from key ceremony

Once again, Trump's pettiness and sense of grievance appears to have overridden his ability to help himself.
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By Steve Benen

One of Donald Trump's top -- and by some measures, only -- legislative priorities for 2020 was the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which tweaks and replaces NAFTA. To the president's delight, he was able to sign the measure at the White House this morning, wrapping up a lengthy process.

But as Reuters noted, the Democrats who made this progress possible weren't invited to the South Lawn ceremony.

Guests invited to the South Lawn signing include lawmakers from around the country, workers, farmers and CEOs, as well as officials from Mexico and Canada, a White House official said.

Not invited were House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal and other Democrats who negotiated for months to expand the pact's labor, environmental and enforcement provisions and ensure the approval of the Democrat-controlled House, said sources familiar with the situation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) office confirmed that House Democrats had not been invited to the ceremony, though her spokesperson said Democrats were "well represented in the huge changes to the original USMCA draft that Democrats wrested out of the Administration."

As a substantive matter, it's a fair point. The White House pleaded with House Democratic leaders for months to advance the president's priority, and in December, party leaders announced that they'd successfully altered the policy, moving the USMCA in a more progressive direction, especially on matters related to the environment and labor.

Trump, indifferent to the substance of governing, effectively gave Pelosi what she asked for, leading the House Speaker to reportedly boast to her members, "We ate their lunch."

Senate Republicans with an interest in trade policy were less than pleased. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) complained that the trade deal has "clearly moved way to the left." Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) added that he feared the Trump administration may have given "away the store" in order to secure Democratic support.

At the president's insistence, NAFTA 2.0 advanced through the GOP-led chamber anyway, setting the stage for this morning's signing ceremony -- at which Trump made sure to exclude the lawmakers who made the success possible.

What's interesting to me isn't the snub -- at this point, we all know who Trump is -- but the missed opportunity. It is, after all, an election year, and it would be in the president's interest to show the public that Congress and his White House team can occasionally work together on a shared priority, forge a bipartisan compromise, and do the people's business.

What's more, Trump would very likely have benefited politically if he'd been able to argue that even now, in the midst of his own impeachment trial, he and Nancy Pelosi were able to get on the same page on an important issue, their broader differences notwithstanding.

The fact that the president blew off the lawmakers who made today's breakthrough possible is consistent with everything we know about his personality and character. But it would've worked in his favor to be seen alongside his Democratic detractors today, though Trump's pettiness and sense of grievance appears to have overridden his ability to help himself.

Update: For what it's worth, Canada hasn't yet ratified the new policy, so the overall continental effort isn't yet a done deal.

MORE: Today's Maddowblog