Just after 9 a.m. on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood with House Democrats as they announced articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. It is only the fourth time in American history that the House has taken that step to attempt to remove the president from office.
Less than an hour later, Pelosi announced that Democrats had reached an agreement with the White House on a new trade pact with Mexico and Canada, handing the president a legislative accomplishment on one of his signature issues that he could run on in his 2020 re-election campaign.
The radically different press conferences revealed a calculated and controversial strategy by Pelosi and House Democrats—to work with Trump on one of his central initiatives and simultaneously argue that he is a threat to the country who should be removed from office.
Pelosi tweeted recently that Trump was a “continuing threat to our democracy,” but she defended working with the White House Tuesday after announcing that Democrats had secured labor, environmental, and pharmaceutical concessions, and won the crucial support of unions.
“We came a long way from what he [Trump] originally proposed,” Pelosi said at a press conference announcing the deal. “Not any one of us is important enough for us to hold up enough because of American workers because of any collateral benefit that might accrue to any one of us.”
Democrats were divided over the trade deal, with progressives remaining skeptical, and several Democrats saying that the deal could benefit the president politically.
“Personally, I am not thrilled with how this has developed. I understand that there are more conservative members of the party that they want to communicate with their constituents that we are ‘doing something’ while impeachment is happening,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who added she was “leaning no” on the bill.
“When you’re explaining, you’re losing,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). “We have to then say, he wanted us to pass this, but if we didn’t take him back to the conference table, we wouldn’t be where we are today…it’s not as simple as ‘I brought it to the table.’ I don’t see how it’s a victory for us.”
Still, many House Democrats emerging from a caucus meeting Tuesday defended working with Trump to get a deal done on trade, while still regarding him as dangerous and worthy of impeachment.
“People who commit crimes sometimes stop for red lights. He’s not incapable of doing something that’s normally human,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.). “A broken clock is right twice a day. That doesn’t mean it’s not a broken clock.”
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) told Fortune, who was one of nine members in Democrats’ working group on the trade agreement. “This is a question of timing. It’s ready to go,” she said of the deal.
Some Democrats hoped that the trade deal would boost the re-election fortunes of the 31 Democrats holding seats in districts that voted for Trump in 2016, rather than help the president’s 2020 campaign.
“I think it’s a huge victory for blue dog Democrats, moderate Democrats in tough districts, if they want to show that they can work with the president or any Republican and get stuff done even in this politically charged atmosphere,” Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) said.
Liberal commentators criticized Pelosi’s strategy and said that the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA) was only a marginal change from the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, which Trump slammed as he campaigned for president in 2016.
“Can someone explain to me why Dems appear about to sign on to Trump’s USMCA trade deal? It’s basically no change from NAFTA as is, but Trump will claim it as a triumph,” tweeted New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.
Trump took a victory lap on Twitter for the deal.
“America’s great USMCA Trade Bill is looking good. It will be the best and most important trade deal ever made by the USA. Good for everybody – Farmers, Manufacturers, Energy, Unions – tremendous support. Importantly, we will finally end our Country’s worst Trade Deal, NAFTA!” he said, adding that there was “very good Democrat support” for the deal.
With House Democrats aiming to vote on articles of impeachment and the trade deal during the same week before members leave on December 20, the awkward timing seemed likely to continue. Many Democrats remained unconcerned that they were potentially giving the president an ad for his 2020 re-election, should the Senate, as expected, acquit him in a trial.
“I can’t tell you how despicable the argument is that we should hold up good policy because it might give the president a win,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.). “Nobody wants to live in that country.”
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