By Michael C. Bender
WASHINGTON -- President Trump on Tuesday told Democratic congressional leaders that Congress should approve his trade deal with Canada and Mexico before taking up infrastructure legislation.
Mr. Trump sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer the day before a White House meeting scheduled with them to discuss a potential infrastructure package.
"Before we get to infrastructure, it is my strong view that Congress should first pass the important and popular USMCA trade deal," Mr. Trump wrote. "Once Congress has passed USMCA, we should turn our attention to a bipartisan infrastructure package."
Last month, the president emerged from a similar meeting with Democrats in which they agreed to aim for a $2 trillion package of infrastructure spending. But there was no agreement on how to pay for the plan, and Republicans in Congress have said they are reluctant to support a deal that would increase the federal deficit and deepen local governments' reliance on the federal government.
The trade agreement would rewrite the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement -- and rebrand it as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. The deal was agreed upon by the three nations last year, and signed by their leaders in November. But the agreement still needs ratification from all three nations' legislatures to take effect.
Mr. Trump says the deal would boost employment and benefit farmers and manufacturing workers. The deal faces a difficult path in Congress. Mrs. Pelosi and other Democrats have signaled they won't allow a vote without changes that would make it enforce new rules designed to strengthen labor rights in Mexico. Democrats argue that a lack of worker protections there is hurting wages and job prospects for U.S. workers.
The Trump administration on Friday removed another major barrier to the pact, reaching agreements with Canada and Mexico to end U.S.-imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and unwind retaliatory measures.
Mr. Trump also brought up passage of the trade deal, which he made a central plank of his 2016 campaign, during the previous infrastructure meeting.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 21, 2019 20:40 ET (00:40 GMT)
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