Neal: Democrats, Lighthizer agree to 'intensify' USMCA discussions

By Sabrina Rodriguez and Megan Cassella

House Democrats tasked with securing changes to the new North American trade pact plan to formally respond next week to the Trump administration’s counteroffer, as both sides agreed in a meeting Friday to speed up negotiations, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal said today.

The nine-member USMCA working group met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for the first time since Lighthizer submitted details of how the Trump administration would consider making changes to the deal to address Democrats’ prevailing concerns on enforcement, labor and environmental standards, and drug pricing provisions. Democrats waited for more than five weeks for the administration's formal response to their proposals.

“We intend to meet again next week. We’ll have a response and, hopefully, the ambassador will have a response for us,” Neal said as he exited the hourlong meeting.

Neal, who leads the working group, indicated both sides agreed to “intensify the discussions” in an effort to strike a deal soon that would allow House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to put the USMCA up for a vote.

The Massachusetts Democrat said, however, that none of the four issues have been solved. “But one of the things we’ve all agreed to is we’ve made substantial progress, and once issues are resolved, they’re going to come off the table and we’re not going to revisit them as we proceed to the next one,” Neal said.

The Trump administration and pro-USMCA business groups have been intensifying pressure for Congress to vote on the deal this fall.

The plan is for both sides to continue “two-way communication” over the weekend and through next week, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), who sits on the working group, told POLITICO.

“We’re making progress, and the goal of the working group is to make it to yes,” she said. “We’ve had good conversations.”

Other members offered a more measured outlook.

“We have a ways to go,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), another working group member, said as she left the meeting. “That’s for sure.”