WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — In a rare event, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the seven men who held the post before him came together Thursday to urge Congress to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“We all have joined forces,” Perdue said.
All eight living secretaries of agriculture penned a letter telling Democratic leadership to see the deal through.
“I think if there’s any one issue upon which all secretaries of agriculture can agree, it’s the importance to American agriculture of trade,” former Secretary Tom Vilsack, who held the post under President Barack Obama, said.
He said the deal, which would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, will give U.S. farmers, ranchers and manufacturers new access to markets and create thousands of jobs.
“It clearly is a better deal,” Vilsack said.
John Block, who served under President Ronald Reagan, said it’s time to put partisan politics aside.
“The secretaries of agriculture, both parties, are standing shoulder to shoulder,” he said.
The U.S., Canada and Mexico negotiated the deal months ago, but congressional action has been on hold while Democrats and President Donald Trump’s administration argue about some of its provisions.
“I’m in that position where I have to be convinced that this is the right step,” Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., said.
He and fellow Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell say the deal lacks rules to prevent Mexico from underpaying its workers and ultimately stealing American jobs.
“I call it NAFTA 2.0 because NAFTA 1.0 has shuttered plants in my district,” Dingell said.
She said bad labor policies in NAFTA are partially to blame for the United Auto Workers’ strike at General Motors.
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said it’s time to for Democrats to stop stalling.
“When it’s on the floor, I believe it will pass overwhelmingly,” he said.
Getting the USMCA passed would be a huge win for the Trump administration, as the president campaigned on replacing NAFTA.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has not endorsed the deal, but Republicans say they are optimistic it will pass before the year’s end — hopefully as early as October.