Christmas gift from the House: USMCA and impeachment

Some last-minute work finally done with USMCA passage, appropriations bill and impeachment votes on Capitol Hill.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

December 19, 2019

5 Min Read
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It’s almost Christmas, and Congress clearly decided that they wanted to go home so they should try to get some work done. In the age of partisan politics and shenanigans, however, a little bit of productive work was taken with a dose of questionable antics.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) bill overwhelmingly passed with a vote of 385-41. It now goes to the Senate, which will not take it up before the holiday but will play out the impeachment process before voting on the measure.

In a floor speech Thursday afternoon, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Michael Conaway (R., Texas) said he was glad the day finally arrived for the advancement of USMCA in the House, adding that “for the last year, Democrats obsessed over a partisan impeachment process while President [Donald] Trump remained focused on securing the wins American farmers were counting on.”

“Universal support in the agricultural committee for the new USMCA speaks volumes about the importance of this trade deal,” Conaway added.

A slew of agricultural groups praised the passage of USMCA and also called on the Senate to act quickly. Don’t expect Senate action until at least the end of January, though.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.), a member of the House working group on trade, said the deal is not a model, but it establishes important principles to build from moving forward. “It lacks the robust climate standards that Democrats know our planet needs, the labor and environmental terms could be even stronger and the agreement should exclude limits on consumer protections for food and product safety,” DeLauro said, but she did offer her final support for the trade pact.

Impeachment scuttle

Last week, when the House Democrats had reached a final deal on USMCA, they had decided to file impeachment charges against the President the same day. On Wednesday, the House passed a resolution with two articles of impeachment of Trump: (1) abuse of power by soliciting the interference of Ukraine in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and (2) obstruction of Congress by directing defiance of certain subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives.

The vote was clearly along party lines, except two no votes from Democrats: House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) and Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D., N.J.). Rep. Jared Golden (D., Maine) announced on Tuesday, the night before the vote, that he’d support the first article, which accuses the President of abuse of power. He said he opposed the second, which alleges that Trump obstructed Congress. In October, he voted for starting the inquiry.

Peterson, long known as a champion for farmers and a moderate Democrat, has served 15 terms as a congressman. He has voted with Trump on legislation 48% of the time, the highest rate of any Democrat, according to a report in "Roll Call."

Meanwhile, reports indicated that Van Drew may even be considering changing parties. He had a meeting with Trump at the White House last week.

The One Country Project (OCP) has been tracking social media support for impeachment in rural America. At the end of November, OCP reported that Trump defenders have been getting increasingly louder and constituted 36% of the discussion, compared to 19% for impeachment advocates. In an updated survey released Dec. 12, OCP observed social media traffic from Nov. 24 to Dec. 9, and the analysis found that discussion volume surrounding impeachment declined substantially, despite the unveiling of articles of impeachment by the House Judiciary Committee. The anti-impeachment volume has remained largely steady, “dipping by 2% while regurgitating similar messaging as in past weeks, namely that the impeachment process has been politically motivated from the start,” OCP report.

Discussions from speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Cal.) reveal that she may not be ready to send the impeachment proceedings to the Senate. When Pelosi was asked if she could guarantee that the impeachment articles will be, at some point, sent to the Senate, she responded that “that would have been our intention, but we will see what happens over there,” after expressing concerns about Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) working alongside White House counsel.

In the end, it appears that we’ve got more partisanship between Democrats and Republicans. I don’t think anyone wanted more of that this Christmas.

Government shutdown averted

Maybe lost in this week’s news coverage was the fact that the government did not shut down when the continuing resolution expired on Dec. 20. On Tuesday, the House passed two legislative packages that comprise all 12 fiscal 2020 funding bills.

The bill provides $23.493 billion in discretionary funding, $183 million above the fiscal 2019 enacted level for agricultural programs. The final bill also includes $1.5 billion in disaster assistance to help farmers who faced losses due to weather, including many in the Midwest, where freezing temperatures and record rainfall prevented them from planting.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) thanked Congress for including language in the report accompanying the final 2020 government funding measure to urge the Food & Drug Administration to finally enforce standards of identity for dairy products. Both the House and Senate versions of the agriculture-FDA bill report include language reaffirming bipartisan congressional concern with mislabeled imitation dairy products and directing FDA to enforce its own rules on labeling.

NMPF said the final measure also provides funding for several critical programs that were authorized last year in the 2018 farm bill. These include the Farm & Ranch Stress Assistance Network to help distressed farmers during challenging times, the Dairy Business Innovation program to help the dairy industry explore opportunities for innovation and modernization and the Healthy Fluid Milk Incentives Program designed to increase consumption of fluid milk.

The final bill did not include any language limiting the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision on moving the Economic Research Service to Kansas City.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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