President Donald Trump held a signing ceremony on Wednesday for what is arguably his biggest legislative achievement since taking office, the comprehensive United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA) designed as a replacement for the lopsided and outdated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of which Trump had long been critical.
The USMCA was recently passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate, but according to a report on Tuesday from Politico, no congressional Democrats were invited to attend the signing ceremony — even those who had played a role in negotiations for the deal.
Politico characterized the move as the latest example of “how this White House rolls” and confirmed with several of the Democrats who were involved in bringing the deal to fruition that not a single one of them had received an invitation to the ceremony at the White House.
Democrats excluded from USMCA signing
Politico reported separately on Wednesday that, as was predictable by the absence of invitations, there were no congressional Democrats in attendance at the White House signing ceremony that morning.
A team of House Democrats had engaged in negotiations for many months together with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to make changes to the final version of the trade pact, and the changes won by Democrats have been pointed to as the sole reason the deal was able to garner so many Democrat votes for bipartisan passage in both chambers of Congress.
While it appears that Trump gave no mention to the bipartisan efforts to shepherd the bill through Congress in his remarks at the ceremony, the Democrats did seem to get a slight nod of recognition from Lighthizer, though he joked without naming names, “listing members in an audience like this makes more enemies than friends.”
Hard feelings abound
Politico noted that numerous Democrats said they weren’t going to take the snub personally, but there were several snide comments from some that seemed to indicate otherwise.
The Hill reported that Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement, “Perhaps we were not invited to today’s event on the South Lawn because our presence would be a prominent reminder of our critical leadership in achieving this deal.”
During a media briefing Wednesday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters, “Because of the work of the House Democrats, under the leadership of Richie Neal with his task force, they made tremendous differences in what was proposed originally and what the president will be signing today.”
Pelosi’s spokesman, Henry Connelly, said in a statement: “The White House hasn’t invited House Democrats to their USMCA signing ceremony. But we’ll be well represented in the huge changes to the original USMCA draft that Democrats wrested out of the administration on labor, prescription drugs, environment and enforcement mechanisms.”
The most likely reason that no Democrats were asked to attend the signing ceremony is the fact that they are currently spearheading a highly partisan effort to remove President Trump from office and, aside from the obvious awkwardness of celebrating the USMCA side-by-side with those seeking his ouster, the president saw no reason to reward his staunch opponents with the kind of recognition an invitation might represent.
Furthermore, given that House Democrats sat on the negotiated trade agreement for nearly a year prior to passage and only took action when they did in order to paint an illusory picture of bipartisan achievement in the midst of impeachment — the slight is a good reminder that it was Trump, not House Democrats, who was the true driving force behind the deal in the first place.