President Trump on Tuesday wrote to Democratic leaders ahead of a meeting at the White House calling on them to pass a renegotiated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) before moving on to infrastructure.
In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Trump expressed optimism the two sides could find common ground on a “big and bold infrastructure bill.” But he said Congress should first pass a revised version of NAFTA, one of the Trump administration’s top legislative priorities.
Democrats and Trump agreed during a meeting last month to pursue a $2 trillion infrastructure package. The two sides will meet at the White House on Wednesday morning to discuss funding for the legislation.
“Before we get to infrastructure, it is my strong view that Congress should first pass the important and popular [United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)] trade deal,” Trump wrote.
“Once Congress has passed USMCA, we should turn our attention to a bipartisan infrastructure package,” he added.
The U.S. late last week reached a deal to lift steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico, removing a significant roadblock for congressional approval of the USMCA.
The legislature of each country must still ratify the agreement. Canadian and Mexican officials have indicated they will do so, but House Democrats, including Pelosi, have said all involved parties must tighten labor and environmental standards before passage in the U.S.
Democratic leaders met last week with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to discuss moving forward on the USMCA.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that the two sides were getting closer but that there was still work to be done. He cited enforcement for labor laws and the length of exclusivity for patents as sticking points.
“I’m hopeful that we can get there. And I think the Speaker is hopeful we can get there,” he said.
While the USMCA has run into some roadblocks, the president in his letter on Tuesday said he believes there is bipartisan agreement to work out an infrastructure deal that modernizes transportation systems and waterways, invests in rural broadband and improves local wastewater facilities.
“It would be helpful if you came to tomorrow’s meeting with your infrastructure priorities and specifics regarding how much funding you would dedicate to each,” he wrote. “Your caucus has expressed a wide-range of priorities, and it is unclear which ones have your support.”
“There is no doubt that the American people want us to rebuild our infrastructure to improve the quality of life for all Americans,” he added. “It is now time for us to follow the wishes of the American people and work together to pass a big and bold infrastructure bill.”
An infrastructure package was thought to be one of the few areas where Democrats and the White House could make a deal, but members of both parties have raised some concerns about the prospect of such a deal.
Congressional Republicans have signaled they are unlikely to support an infrastructure package with such a hefty price tag unless they can reach a deal on how to pay for it without adding to the deficit.
Some Democrats have questioned whether it’s worth it to give Trump a win on infrastructure when the president has stonewalled investigative oversight efforts.