Transcript of Speaker Pelosi Press Conference Announcing New USMCA Agreement
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Pelosi, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal and Members of Congress held a press conference announcing an agreement on transformative changes to the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement. Below is a full transcript:
Speaker Pelosi. Good morning, everyone.
This is a day we have all been working to and working for, on the path to ‘yes.’ We were in range for a while, but until we could cross a certain threshold of enforcement for our workers' rights, for environment and for the prescription drug issue – as you know, they were three of the areas that we had put out there.
I want to thank our Chairman, Richie Neal, Chair of the Ways and Means Committee; the eight members of the task force – whom I will acknowledge momentarily, but thanking them for their leadership in negotiating on different segments of the legislation.
I also want to thank Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO. He was persistent, dissatisfied, knowledgeable. He really got us to a place which is a far distance from where we started with the proposal that was given to us.
There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA, but in terms of our work here, it is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the Administration. I credit our Chairman, Richie Neal, for helping us navigate all of these places, the unity of our Caucus on specific priorities in order to get the job done and, again, the brilliance and knowledge of Richard Trumka as to the ramifications of every provision that was in the legislation.
We will be handing out the memo from the Ways and Means Committee, you may have it, which explains why we are so proud of the distance that we have come from where we started with the Administration on this legislation. It is a victory for America's workers. It is one that we take great pride, great pride in advancing.
Members of the eight – Members of the Task Force, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who has a markup in her Committee about workers’ rights or, and appropriations; Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, you will be hearing from; Mike Thompson of California; Terri Sewell of Alabama; Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon, whom you’ll be hearing from; Jimmy Gomez of California, you’ll be hearing from, as well. Where are my others? John Larson – John Larson of Connecticut, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight – here we are.
And, now, it is my honor to yield to Richie. He was indeed a maestro to make all of this happen. It’s with great respect and admiration for his work, and gratitude, that I yield to the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Richie Neal.
Chairman Neal. Thank you.
Every once in a great while, you get to participate in an ‘it will never happen’ moment.
And we are witnessing that today.
The other value of technology that I would point out is, after a round of intense – finishing conversations and negotiations over the weekend that started on Saturday morning, with the Speaker and myself and the Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer, we went back and –
Speaker Pelosi. And Mr. Trumka
Chairman Neal. And Mr. Trumka, the Speaker – he was on a hunting expedition, we spoke with him frequently – but the Speaker talked to me earnestly about we are near, we are near, and on Sunday, when Tom Brady was about to take it in, all of a sudden I looked at my phone, it said ‘Pelosi’ for caller ID. Long wisdom tells me, ‘To hell with Brady, take the call.’
Speaker Pelosi. And I was watching Baltimore and the 49ers.
Chairman Neal. So, this is a transformative agreement. It is a template, I believe, for future agreements. Our constant emphasis was on enforceability, enforceability, enforceability. We fixed that. And the idea of the notion that the President of the AFL-CIO, Rich Trumka, would be supportive of this initiative, I think tells a story. But, this is more than a triumph for organized labor, it’s a triumph for workers everywhere across America.
In terms of the Working Group Members, I want to say that they strengthened the labor standards, they strengthened the environmental chapters, enhanced the verification mechanisms for environmental trade. With the unflinching leadership of the Speaker, we also secured important changes in USMCA to preserve Congress’s ability to change U.S. law to address the crisis we are facing with respect to high prescription drug prices.
Over the intense period of negotiations with the Administration, I repeatedly emphasized that USMCA will deserve a vote because it is an agreement that Democrats shaped. I don't think anybody on this dais would have said two months ago that we would have been able to get as far as we did in this negotiation. It was based upon goodwill, but also a determination that we acknowledge the problems that existed in the past with enforceability – and this was a very telling moment, just to share with the media.
On the day of the break in August with the Working Group, I said to the Trade Rep., the last meeting, I said, ‘Nothing has fostered more disagreement about trade than a lack of enforceability.’
The Trade Rep. said to me, ‘You're absolutely right.’ He said, ‘I want to tell you,’ and this is – I think I am not speaking out of school – he said, ‘There have been people in the State Department, the Defense Department and the Oval Office, over the years who said, ‘Don't get this one upset and don't get that one upset because we might need them on future geographic issues.’ He said, ‘Our position has been that we are supportive of the thrust of what you want to do here.’
And, I think that the initiative that we offered – his position – I think that the offering that we have in front of us today is indicative of the goodwill, but some of the members on this task force and including the Chairman of the Subcommittee, Mr. Blumenauer, what a job they did.
These were intense, argumentative, angry negotiations. I mean, this got really hot on a number of occasions. I think we set a world record for hanging up on each other, myself and the Trade Rep. But, at the same time, we also knew this was an opportunity that we couldn't let get away from us, and we did that.
So, we will continue to share more details in text.
The last point is a reminder that I traveled with the Delegation to Mexico to meet the President of Mexico, and right after that, I traveled to Canada to meet with the Prime Minister of Canada and the Minister for Trade. I believe they were good partners in this.
They conceded to just about every point that we asked for because of the following: enforceability, enforceability, enforceability.
So, with that, Madam Speaker, I will turn it to you.
Speaker Pelosi. I’m going to turn it back to Jan Schakowsky, a champion on the issue related to pharmaceuticals in our trade agreement.
Congresswoman Schakowsky. It has been an honor to serve on the Working Group. The Trump Administration sent us a deeply flawed trade deal that, among other things, would have raised the price of pharmaceuticals across North America by locking in high drug prices and expanding Big Pharma’s monopoly.
Over the past six months, my Democratic colleagues and I on the Working Group worked for a deal that helps America's patients, workers and all consumers.
We now have a new and improved, renegotiated NAFTA that prevents Big Pharma from raising the price of prescription drugs across the United States, Mexico and Canada.
First, we eliminated provisions that undermine Congress's ability to change domestic policies that lead to high drug prices. The Trump Administration tried to tuck into – to tuck in big corporate gifts to Big Pharma in USMCA: 10 years of market exclusively for biologics.
Though we currently have 12 years of exclusivity in the United States, this trade bill would have tied Congress's hands and prevented us from enacting legislation.
I have a bill that would actually lower the exclusivity period, but that provision is now out of the trade deal. It is gone.
Because of our current prescription drug pricing crisis, many Americans actually would go to Canada and to Mexico to get lower-cost drugs. This would have raised the cost across the hemisphere, and this deal would have caused prices of prescription drugs in those countries to skyrocket.
On the first day of our negotiation, I told the U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer that the biologic exclusivity provisions needed to be removed, and now they are gone.
The Trump Administration also tried to gift Big Pharma with increased protections for secondary patents and evergreening, changing a little bit of a drug to get a new and extended patent, and those provisions are gone.
Finally, the Trump Administration also tried to prioritize brand-name drugs and include barriers to market entry of generic drugs, and we have now revised those provisions to ensure generic competition and to improve access and affordability to medicines for people across North America.
Lots of people to thank. We had an amazing staff on the Committee and in our offices. I want to thank Congressman Blumenauer. He and I were working on the pharmaceutical piece.
I also want to thank organized labor, Richard Trumka. They made the drug provisions an important part of this legislation, so we have fixed the USMCA for America's patients, consumers throughout the hemisphere.
Chairman Neal. Jim Gomez has done a remarkable job. Jim?
Congressman Gomez. First, let me thank the Speaker and the Chairman for trusting a redshirt freshman to be on this Working Group.
I always looked at this issue as important because I come from labor. I worked for the – I worked for the American Federation of State, County Employees Nurses Union in California, so I’ve learned, and I understood, the seriousness of any trade agreements.
When it comes to this one, we were asked to really work on the labor and the enforcement parts of the agreement. We look at it as a three legged stool: one, the labor rules within the agreement; two, monitoring; and three is enforcement.
When it comes to the rules, if you have squishy language, then it is hard to understand if there is any of that agreement. So, we tie up the language to make it stronger and more enforceable.
Two, you have to have monitoring of any violations on the ground, so we actually created monitoring mechanisms to assess Mexico's progress in implementing its labor reforms and complying with the rules that we laid out in writing.
And three, if there's no consequences to a violation that we discover through monitoring of those rules, then the agreement is not worth the paper it's written on.
We traded an enhanced labor specific enforcement mechanism that will support and ensure that violation of the agreement standards will have real-world consequences.
These provisions go to the objective that the Speaker laid out, the Caucus laid out at the beginning of the negotiating process.
I want to make clear this is no longer ‘NAFTA light.’ This is a new trade agreement that the Working Group and the Democrats have achieved with consultation, of course, with our partners.
It is something that when you look at it – that has included – that's never been included – parts that we have negotiated have never been included in any trade agreement ever in the history of this country, ever.
That means that we are going to have more confidence that this is actually going to benefit the American workers and create a level – more level playing field between Mexico, the United States and Canada.
I think this is a big win. This is no longer NAFTA light, and to an extent where we have to, Mexico and Canada have to open up the agreement again and sign off on it again.
But I want to just say that I learned from some of the best staffers. We have great staff up here who have really provided the guidance and expertise, the stakeholders.
The Speaker is a master legislator, and I think without her, Chairman Neal and Chairman Blumenauer, we would not be here today.
Thank you so much.
Chairman Neal. Suzanne Bonamici, who managed the environmental side.
Congresswoman Bonamici. Thank you so much.
Four years ago today, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act to replace No Child Left Behind with better policy, something that a lot of people said would never get done. Well, here we are today.
The reason it happened is because of strong leadership, and when we fight hard for the American people, we can get something done.
And we are here today to say thank you to Speaker Pelosi, thank you to Chairman Neal and thank you to the Working Group, who did work and fight hard for better provisions.
And I can say unequivocally, this is significantly better than NAFTA and importantly a new trade agreement setting high standards that is significantly better than the USMCA that came to us in the Working Group.
With regard to the environment, we fought hard for these provisions. We have better rules on the environment.
Importantly, we have enhanced monitoring, so we know when violations happen, and then critically, we have strong enforcement and strong funding to make sure that those provisions are being enforced.
We incorporate several multilateral agreements – environmental agreements. We have an interagency committee to assess and monitor.
This is going to be the best trade agreement for the environment, and that is because of the hard work of the Speaker, the hard work of Chairman Neal and the hard work of the Working Group and all the stakeholders who fought hard.
So, thank you all for being here today on this critical day and look forward to continuing till we get this over the finish line.
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you. Thank you all very much for your hard work and – of the Gang of Eight, and the Trade Committee and the rest.
What will happen now, right now, as we are speaking, the Trade Representative is on his way to Mexico for there to be a signing of this new, revised trade agreement, which has come a long way from the original agreement that they presented to us. It – this makes all the difference in the world to American workers, workers in Canada, workers in Mexico.
It makes all the difference in the world in terms of environmental issues, and it makes all the difference in the world in terms of what Congresswoman Schakowsky talked about, in terms of not putting in a trade agreement something that not only bars those countries, but our country from making any changes to strengthen the hand, give more leverage to consumers rather than to Big Phrma.
With that, we'll take some questions, but perhaps first the distinguished Chairman would like to say what we do next in terms of the implementing legislation and the rest.
Chairman Neal. Well, I think we’re going to begin sharing text, and people will have an opportunity to review parts of the agreement before there is any expedited period of bringing it to the Floor, but I also think that Minister Freeland is in Mexico now with the Trade Rep., and we hope that they'll copper fasten the issue.
As the pass out that we have from the Ways and Means Committee – I want to say something – that Ways and Means staff, that Trade staff – they are the best. They are the best.
Speaker Pelosi. I want to acknowledge Katherine – my Katherine. You have your Katherine.
Chairman Neal. Yes.
So, I think that will begin to get the information out. People have a chance to sort the implementation language and get this to the Floor.
I think that there is no reason for unnecessary delays, but at the same time we want to make sure there is a chance for people in the Caucus to vet what we’ve put together.
Q: On the impeachment –
Speaker Pelosi. We made our presentation this morning.
Q: Do you want to take the question?
Speaker Pelosi. We’re taking questions on the subject at hand, and since you’re new to this, the others that are here regularly understand that.
Q: Is it a coincidence you are announcing this bipartisan deal on the same day that you are unveiling your articles of impeachment?
Speaker Pelosi. No, it's not a coincidence. It’s just as we get to the end of a session there have to be decisions made.
The timetable for impeachment is the timetable of the Committees, and that came to an end with the hearing yesterday.
But for us, this has – we didn't know what day it would be, but the Trade Representative, Ambassador Lighthizer, who was remarkable to work with, he shared our values – he understood why we could not accept the Trump Administration product. And he wanted to get this signed by the Mexicans and the Canadians.
When you’re dealing with something like this, it could be perishable, so he wanted to close while we were all in agreement, and therefore we came to agreement.
Q: Madam Speaker –
Speaker Pelosi. Do you want to say anything about that?
Chairman Neal. I do. Again, the idea of timing on this was that a notification was offered that we might get there so that we had to prepare a Mexican President, a Canadian Prime Minister, as I noted earlier, the Ambassador and the Speaker cautioned him on Saturday. I’m witness to the conversation on the phone. He was very anxious, and she said, ‘No, we need another confirmation phone call with Rich Trumka,’ which took place.
And then I think –
Speaker Pelosi. – and he had, Rich Trumka had his communication with his folks –
Chairman Neal. – he had to –
Speaker Pelosi. – which he had to go through –
Chairman Neal. – with his affiliates.
Speaker Pelosi. – and then, if I just may, on that score, we’re coming to the end of the session. So, if you engineer back from what we hope will be the end, December 20, if you engineer back in order to get something accomplished, which we hope to do, before the end of the session, you have to move.
Q: Madam Speaker what do you say to those who wonder how you can say President Trump is an existential threat to democracy on one hand, but also worked so closely with his Administration to get something like this done, which is such a parody for them as well?
Speaker Pelosi. I would say that we came a long way from what he originally proposed, and there are some people who said, ‘Why make it look like he has a victory?’
Well, we’re declaring victory for the American worker in what is in this agreement.
But we would never – not any one of us is important enough for us to hold up a trade agreement that is important for American workers because of any collateral benefit that might accrue to any one of us.
Chairman Neal. A reminder – this is a hemispheric trade agreement. That’s how important this is. And we were determined to alter the conversation about trade.
Congressman Thompson. We made this –
Chairman Neal. We made this agreement.
Q: Madam Speaker –
Speaker Pelosi. It was one of those things where we made our own environment. Mind you, Mexico has NATFA, so what is their motivation to – ? So we had to take everybody to a different place, and certainly we would never have agreed to what the President proposed.
Q: Mr. Chairman, two questions. Can you just explain to the American people, you fought hard over some specific issues, what this means for the economy long-term, you think, and then also will the Americans have the ability to go into Mexican plants unverified?
Chairman Neal. Yes, and we also believe that as we proceed now into the final stages of just the text sharing, that we'll be able to confirm what I’ve just said.
Not to miss the point that we can't turn our backs and deny the reality of trade. As I noted earlier, 95 percent of the consumer class of the world lives outside the United States, coupled with the other reality, I mean, if you talk to your children or your grandchildren, and you talk about the internet, I mean they’ve already globalized. So, the idea for us, I think, is to shape these agreements so the American worker is covered as well.
Q: Madam Speaker, this is kind of a whiplash morning dealing with impeachment at nine o’clock, USMCA at ten –
Speaker Pelosi. And the day is young.
Congresswomen Sewell. Yeah, we still have legislating to do.
Speaker Pelosi. First of all, all you talk about when we come together is when are we getting out here? ‘Are we going to be out by Christmas?’ And now, you're saying you’re whiplashed into all this activity to get us out on time.
Q: Well, we have been through many crazy Decembers here, we are certainly getting there. That said though, when I talk to a lot of your Democrats who are very interested in getting USMCA, who might be skeptical about impeachment, they, they emphasize while it is important to get this done, but they worried whether or not the intention and the legislative success of USMCA and perhaps other issues could win the day in the court of public opinion over impeachment when those issues are more prominent. Do you expect this to prevail and resound with those voters more than impeachment?
Speaker Pelosi. This has a life of its own. This is about, as the Chairman said, ‘Globalization is a reality.’ It is not going away. And when we are shaping a bill that weds trade with the environment, with workers' rights and the rest, this is its own reason for being. It has nothing to do with the rest of whatever you were talking about.
But, but, I will say that, it is in terms of globalization, environment, and then talking about, not using a trade agreement to hurt our ability to make our own laws in the United States and those states - those countries to do so. I had one disappointment, which was 260, but I was too – 230 – I was too late coming in on it.
Q: Could you explain that a little bit so that people understand the 230 –
Speaker Pelosi. I mean there is no use going into it, I mean I lost. Here's the thing, they had 230 in the agreement. There are some Members who wanted that, I guess, I don't know. He didn't name names. But, he had 230 in the agreement, which is, in my view, the wrong way to go. It’s a real gift to Big Tech. But, I had said to the – and we know this – I had said to the Trade Representative, we are not adding any more issues to the discussion.
Environment. Pharmaceuticals. Workers' rights. Enforcement.
That came to my attention after I made that commitment. And by the way, it was a letter from the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Pallone, and the Ranking Republican Member asking that it be removed. But unfortunately, I got it after I made the pledge of not moving any goal post anymore.
Q: Can you talk about the time frame, it was more than a year ago when the original deal was signed, how come it took so long to take this up?
Staff. Last question.
Chairman Neal. Because we were not going to accept the original deal.
Speaker Pelosi. That’s right.
Chairman Neal. I mean, that's what it comes down to.
Speaker Pelosi. It's a real indication of why we are celebrating today this victory for the American worker, because under the leadership of our Chairman, Richie Neal, and the hard work of our eight Members of the Working Group and the, in addition to that, the Trade Committee and the input that we are getting from all of our Members of our Caucus about what the impact was in their areas, and we shared that with the trade, with Mr. Trumka, with Mr. Lighthizer and the rest, it takes a while, especially when you are starting with something that is a nonstarter. That's what the Trump Administration gave us – a nonstarter.
So, if you want to talk about the time, just understand the change that was necessary in that and had to be made in the agreement. The treaty, not just what we would do in our implementing legislation, which is our own discussion. But what we had to have with the Canadians and the Mexicans.
Actually, I found it to be relatively short. Perhaps you haven't been around here when we have had major battles on trade.
Remember NAFTA one? Oh my God. That was something. So intense, heated and long. This was really quite easy compared to that. And as the Chairman said, this can be – what we wanted was not only to inch our way to a place that we could – we wanted to take it to another place where it could be a template for future trade agreements, that a standard was set in terms of workers and how we respect our own legislative process here. As well as how we say, whatever you want to say, there is a direct connection between trade and the environment. You cannot separate them.
Chairman Neal. Thank you.
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you.