By Catherine Lucey and Andrew Duehren
WASHINGTON -- For President Trump and much of Capitol Hill, it was an hour of political whiplash.
First, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared at a 9 a.m. press conference to unveil impeachment articles against Mr. Trump. She then walked to a 10 a.m. event to hand him a win with the announcement Democrats would support a new U.S. trade deal with Mexico and Canada.
It was a split-screen moment that was unusual even for a time of divided control in Washington. Both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue are managing to move forward, however haltingly, on a smattering of policy priorities, even as Congress weighs whether to remove the president from office.
Asked about the rapid turnabout Tuesday morning, Mrs. Pelosi quipped, "The day is young."
Mr. Trump, for his part, called the impeachment inquiry "sheer Political Madness" on Twitter just before praising the Democratic support for USMCA as "great for our Country!" Adding to the drama of the day, the president had a closed-door meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Tuesday afternoon where, according to the White House, Mr. Trump "warned against any Russian attempts to interfere in United States elections and urged Russia to resolve the conflict with Ukraine."
Throughout the impeachment process, both sides had argued they wanted to continue to work on policy. The USMCA presented a particularly good opportunity: a piece of legislation with bipartisan support that gave Mr. Trump a win on a campaign promise and offered political cover to congressional Democrats in moderate districts concerned about re-election.
"I think in some ways impeachment makes it easier for Democrats to work with Trump on some issues," said Republican strategist Alex Conant. "The Democratic base is demanding that congressional Democrats confront Trump and impeachment is the ultimate way to do that. As long as the base is satisfied congressional Democrats are holding Trump accountable, Democrats have some leeway to work on other issues."
In her remarks at the press conference discussing the agreement, Mrs. Pelosi focused on the changes Democrats secured to the original deal.
"There are some people who said, 'Why make it look like he has a victory?'" she said of working with Mr. Trump on USMCA. "Well we're declaring victory for the American worker and what is in this agreement."
The USMCA deal isn't the only legislative package Congress is hoping to push through to the president's desk in the final weeks of 2019. A bill to address surprise medical billing, the annual defense authorization bill, and spending legislation to fund the government after Dec. 20 are all on the docket for lawmakers before they go home for the holidays.
"The federal government handles things the way I did my term papers. You wait until the last minute and cram. That's kind of where we're at," said Sen. John Boozman (R., Ark.).
After months of accusations from Republicans that they were prioritizing a partisan impeachment process above important policy objectives, House Democrats were eager to prove the critics wrong Tuesday, with several members quipping to reporters that they were finally asking about something besides impeachment.
"Impeachment has never consumed all of what we're doing," said Rep. Karen Bass, (D., Calif.)
Rep. Dan Kildee (D., Mich.) said that Democrats can and will work with Mr. Trump on certain issues, even as they broadly oppose him.
"A broken clock is right twice a day. That doesn't mean it's not a broken clock," Mr. Kildee said. He said a trade agreement was too important to ignore.
"There's political risk in not doing your job," he said.
The White House sought to frame the USMCA deal as a major win ahead of the president's 2020 campaign, as well as evidence that he could continue to govern amid impeachment.
Even as they came together on USMCA, members of both parties lobbed attacks at each other. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham accused Mrs. Pelosi of purposely timing the USMCA announcement to come after the impeachment press conference.
"The difference in the two announcements was stark: a full slate of members from across the country by her side to announce USMCA, compared to just six for impeachment," she said.
An aide to Mrs. Pelosi rejected that criticism, saying the announcement came when the negotiations were finished and wasn't timed for political purposes.
Speaking to reporters as he left the White House for a rally in Pennsylvania Tuesday evening, Mr. Trump tied impeachment and the trade deal together, calling the USMCA the "silver lining" of impeachment. "Because without the impeachment they would have never approved it in my opinion," he said, adding that Democrats "wanted to muffle down the impeachment because they're embarrassed by it. "
Both parties are already looking ahead to the next possible deal. Mrs. Pelosi, along with leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, met Tuesday afternoon with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to discuss government funding, which runs out after Dec. 20. The parties aim to meet again Thursday, with Democrats praising Mr. Mnuchin's presence in the room.
"I think we're all working toward trying to get this done quickly," Mr. Mnuchin said.
Write to Catherine Lucey at firstname.lastname@example.org and Andrew Duehren at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 10, 2019 18:21 ET (23:21 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.