TMD: What to Expect in December

Is USMCA happening? How about prescription drug legislation?

Happy Friday! Whether you were watching Mitch Trubisky and the Bears squeak past the hapless Lions, Thor the bulldog bring home the National Dog Show gold, or Astronaut Snoopy floating low over Manhattan, we hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving surrounded by family, friends, and food.

Quick Hits: What You Need To Know

  • President Trump made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Thursday, visiting with troops and meeting with Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani. Trump told reporters that peace talks with the Taliban have been reopened, and that he hopes to reduce the U.S. presence in the country from 14,000 troops to 8,600.

  • Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law on Wednesday night, standing with the protesters in the region and angering China’s President Xi amid contentious trade talks.

  • The Justice Department’s inspector general report due out early next month is expected to thwart President Trump’s claim that the FBI was spying on his campaign.

  • Gordon Sondland, President Trump’s ambassador to the EU and star impeachment witness, was accused of sexual misconduct by three women earlier this week.

On the Agenda: The House and USMCA

In Wednesday’s TMD, we gave you a brief overview of what to expect next in the House’s impeachment inquiry. This morning, we wanted to take advantage of the holiday lull in those proceedings to talk about another important matter currently before the House: approval of the Trump administration’s trilateral trade deal, USMCA. 

For the past 25 years, the United States has enjoyed essentially free trade with both Mexico and Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. President Trump spent much of his 2016 campaign railing against NAFTA, and the first half of his term threatening to pull the U.S. out of it and slap heavy tariffs on Mexican and Canadian imports. Fortunately, that never came to pass: Instead, last September, the White House managed to strike a new trade deal with our neighbors, dubbed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. USMCA is essentially a face-lifted, modernized NAFTA: Among other tweaks, it gives the U.S. access to Canada’s dairy market and includes new provisions governing intellectual property and digital trade, sectors of the economy that the 20th-century agreement didn’t cover. By and large, however, the new agreement serves the same purposes as did the old.

Which works just fine: The three nations get to keep their mutually beneficial trading relationship, and Trump gets to claim he won a fantastic new victory for American workers. Everybody wins!

The pact’s path to law was complicated, however, when Democrats reclaimed the House a year ago. Instead of enjoying a cakewalk through a GOP-controlled Congress, Trump needed to secure Nancy Pelosi’s go-ahead for the deal. Since June, a working group of Democrats has been negotiating with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for a number of tweaks related to issues including agreement enforcement and protections for labor. Pelosi originally hoped to hammer negotiations out by Thanksgiving; now, with talks seemingly dragging along just at the final stage, it’s an open question whether they’ll strike a deal by Christmas—and vanishingly unlikely it will come before the House for a vote before the new year.

The USMCA is an odd bill—a new trade agreement whose primary purpose is to maintain the status quo—and it’s currently at an odd stage. Everybody involved wants to pass the thing; free trade between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada is an incredible economic boon to all three countries. (The pressure to hustle is not too strong, given that NAFTA remains in force pending USMCA’s ratification.)

But Democrats are determined that USMCA’s eventual passage not be seen as a victory for the White House alone: Pelosi wants swing-district members of her caucus to have the opportunity to run on the bill in 2020 as well. By using her control of the House as a lever to twist the White House’s arm, she’s given some of those members the opportunity to put their fingerprints on it. 

The result has been a slightly comical public standoff between Pelosi and Trump. Although the bill they’re hashing out is, for all intents and purposes, NAFTA 2.0, both leaders have a political incentive to denounce the old agreement as broken and unworkable. And although they’re on the verge of an amicable resolution that they both want to see, they are still publicly accusing each other of dragging their heels—Pelosi, characteristically dry, pointing out that Democrats are waiting for Lighthizer to make the last move; Trump, characteristically bombastic, telling reporters Pelosi is “incapable of moving it” and tweeting that USMCA is “dead in the water.”  

Even besides USMCA and impeachment, there’s plenty else that the House has to attend to as well before Christmas. Pelosi’s own marquee piece of drug pricing legislation (which is unlikely to go anywhere in the Senate) is out of committee and needs a vote on the House floor. And there’s a little matter of keeping the lights on: Congress and the White House have until December 20 to negotiate a new spending bill, or failing that, pass another continuing resolution to fund the government temporarily. When the House reconvenes Monday, they’ll have two weeks to work with before everyone heads back to their districts Dec. 11. Better get cracking. 

On the Agenda: Everywhere Else

Outside the House, things are less frenetic—for the moment. 

In the Senate, business proceeds pretty much as it has since the midterms: Mitch McConnell ignores the bills the House sends his way and spends his session days busily confirming one Trump-appointed judge after another. Meanwhile, his caucus fidgets and keeps an eye on impeachment proceedings, bracing for a trial in the new year. 

The Supreme Court is working through its case docket, preparing for, in particular, a pair of potential landmark cases to be argued early next year: One involving the constitutionality of the Obama-established Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the other considering Louisiana’s recent very restrictive abortion law. In the shorter term, however, they may find themselves forced to weigh in on impeachment-related matters: The Trump administration seems determined to fight some congressional subpoenas all the way to their door, and Chief Justice John Roberts will preside in the event of a Senate trial. 

Worth Your Time

Too much hard news isn’t a good beginning to a morning spent working off a half-pound of stuffing, so we’ll leave it there for now. Instead, we recommend you use that time to sit back, loosen your belt, and enjoy a few of these great longreads:

  • The indispensable Matt Labash turns a baleful eye toward a subject near and dear to our hearts—podcasting—in a great new piece for Spectator USA. In it, he laments the current deluge of downloadable yakkery that haunts our age: “Podcasts have achieved such ubiquity that I might even host one or two myself, and just can’t remember what they are or where to report for duty. … [S]ince Serial took off in 2014, studies I’ve fabricated but that should exist show there are now more true-crime podcasts than criminals.” (Naturally we maintain a couple episodes of The Remnant would turn this thing right around for him, although we’re a little nervous to broach the subject in person.)

  • The United States has certainly been more divided than it is right now (hundreds of thousands died in the Civil War), but it sure feels like polarization is at an all-time high. In looking for a solution, Andy Ferguson asks: Can marriage counseling save America? Check out his piece in The Atlantic here.

  • One of the oldest family-owned farms in the country is calling it quits after 240 years and seven generations. Check out Corey Kilgannon’s piece in the New York Times to learn why Frank and Sherry Hull are far from alone: “Scores of small farms across the country close each year because their aging proprietors don’t have successors.”

  • Ryan Lizza’s profile of Barack Obama for Politico is a must, delving into 44’s life after the presidency, what he thinks about Trump, and the role he is playing in the Democratic primary.

  • For National Affairs, Donald Schneider took a look at the modern American economy, elites, and why populism has taken root on both the left and the right.

  • In 1963, Filmmaker Michael Apted began his documentary series 7 Up! by interviewing a group of 7-year-olds in London in 1963. He has checked in on the kids—as they became teenagers, young adults, and old adults—every seven years. The newest edition, “63 Up,” attempts to answer the question: “Does who you are at 7 determine who you are at 63?” Gideon Lewis-Kraus explores.

Presented Without Comment

Something Patriotic

Amazing what a little moral leadership can do. This clip may bring a tear to your eye:

Toeing The Company Line

  • No days off for David, who pumped out a French Press yesterday despite the holiday. The topic? Gratitude, naturally. Give it a read here

  • Jonah was also in the Thanksgiving spirit, delivering a midweek G-File on identity politics and why we don’t need them at the dinner table. He was also joined by Yuval Levin on The Remnant podcast to discuss gratitude and the importance of community.

Let Us Know

Whether you (correctly) believe that the Christmas season begins November 1 or you’re the type to stay Scroogey until after the Thanksgiving wishbone’s been cracked, there’s no denying it now: It is now officially the most wonderful time of the year. Alas, peace on earth and goodwill among men hasn’t yet entirely swept through the office at The Dispatch, as evidenced by some in-house holiday beverage bickering.

Dear reader, help us settle the question: Is eggnog indispensable festivity fuel, or a lardy emblem of the dreaded holiday hangover?

Reporting by Declan Garvey, Andrew Egger, and Steve Hayes.