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GOP and Dems agree: Trump can’t just do what he wants with NAFTA

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BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 30: U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during the plenary session on the opening day of Argentina G20 Leaders' Summit 2018 at Costa Salguero on November 30, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images)
Amilcar
Orfali/Getty Images


  • Trump said he plans to terminate NAFTA, setting off a
    firestorm among lawmakers.
  • But both key Republicans and Democrats agree that he has no
    such legal authority to begin with.
  • Lawmakers also warned of the “disruptive” economic effect
    that a sudden NAFTA withdrawal could have.

WASHINGTON — Key Republicans and Democrats are in agreement that
President Donald Trump does not have any legal authority to
withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) in an effort to force Congress to swiftly
consider his new deal with Canada and Mexico.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee told INSIDER that Trump
cannot just shred NAFTA, but would instead have to consult with
Congress, where he would no doubt face significant hurdles
without a concrete, agreed upon replacement already in place.


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“I’ll be terminating it within a relatively short period of time.
We get rid of NAFTA. It’s been a disaster for the United States.
It’s caused us tremendous amounts of unemployment and loss and
company loss and everything else,” Trump
told reporters
this week. “That’ll be terminated. And so
Congress will have a choice of the USMCA or pre-NAFTA, which
worked very well.”

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who sits on the Senate Finance
Committee, told reporters that Trump has no legal authority to
withdraw, and would require consent from Congress.

“The simple fact is NAFTA was enacted through legislation.
It requires legislation to repeal it,” Toomey said. “The bizarre
thing about the administration’s contention is they acknowledge
that if they changed one word in NAFTA they have to come back to
Congress to get it approved, but somehow they can strike the
whole thing and they don’t need Congress for that? That makes no
sense and it is not consistent with the legislation.”

And Toomey’s feelings are felt across the political aisle.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance
Committee, told INSIDER the Constitution’s separation of powers
is clear as day that Congress is in charge of NAFTA.

“Up at the White House, they ought to take out a copy of
the Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 is very clear that
Congress has the power to regulate foreign commerce and there’s
also a Congressional Research Service analysis that supports it,”
he said.

The
CRS analysis
Wyden mentioned has stated any withdrawal would
require congressional approval.

Wyden also said Trump is exhibiting lack of confidence in
his USMCA proposal.

“If the president was really confident that his trade
proposal was going to work, he wouldn’t be playing this kind of
brinkmanship and trying to throw this kind of muscle around,” he
said, noting the White House’s rushed pace.

And Toomey suggested the president’s rhetoric about wanting
to tear up NAFTA is an attempt to kick-start consideration of his
new agreement, the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA),
but that it is a poor strategy to begin with.

“It appears the president is trying to say, ‘you know it’s
this or nothing.'” he said. “But when he doesn’t have the legal
authority to enforce that choice, it’s not a very good
strategy.”

But some suggested there is room for some kind of NAFTA
dismantling by Trump, as long is he meets certain criteria.

“The president is given substantial authority in all of our
trade dealings. But it’s not without restrictions,” Massachusetts
Sen. Elizabeth Warren told INSIDER. “In other words, certain
factual findings are necessary first.”

“As is often in the case, what the president proposes to do
has to fit within a larger framework of what is legally permitted
under the treaty,” she added.

A rapid withdrawal from NAFTA could have devastating effects on
the economy

In terms of the risks of a NAFTA withdrawal, Warren said
the US needs a new deal to replace it, but without the risks of
igniting a catastrophe that could domino into a ruined
economy.

“Look, we need a different NAFTA, but that means sitting
down and negotiating for a NAFTA that works for American workers,
small businesses, and farmers,” she said. “Not just unilaterally
just trying to start yet another trade war.”

Toomey took a harder stance, saying a sudden or even
timetabled withdrawal without a replacement could force the US
economy into a downward spiral.

“It would be extremely disruptive,” Toomey told INSIDER.
“The markets would go haywire, I mean supply chains would be
very, very disrupted. It’d be very harmful to the economy, to
jobs in the United States.”

Toomey has reiterated his sentiments to White House
officials, but not yet to Trump.

“So it’s not a good policy,” he added. “But as I say, I
simply reject the idea he has the authority to do it.”

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