WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Iowa on Wednesday, trying to pressure the state’s Democrats to back a new North American trade deal.
“I came to Iowa today to turn up the heat,” Pence said during an event in Waukee where he urged House Democrats to bring up the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Ratifying that deal would be a signature trade policy victory for the Trump administration, which is pushing hard for a House vote on the pact.
Pence said Speaker Nancy Pelosi has “refused” to bring it up. Pelosi has said Democrats are making quiet progress working with Trump officials over different aspects of the deal.
A prime target for Pence’s pressure campaign is Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, who represents the state’s southwest quadrant and a key district.
Axne spokeswoman Madeleine Russak said the congresswoman will work to ensure USMCA meets the needs of both the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, while lowering costs for Iowa families.
“While Congress needs to take the necessary time to ensure passage, the congresswoman believes it must be done without unnecessary delay,” Russak said. “She is continuing to speak with farmers, families, manufacturers and businesses across the Third District about their needs and concerns regarding USMCA and is hopeful the final agreement will be positive for Iowa.”
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Trade is a key piece of the broader battle both parties are waging at the moment over the support of rural Americans, particularly those in swing states crucial to the 2020 election.
While Pence touted the administration’s work on behalf of farm country, Iowa Democrats denounced President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.
They said it has contributed to declining farm incomes and falling land values that ripple throughout rural communities. They highlighted news that the United States could see its first agricultural trade deficit in decades.
“He handed our soybean markets over to Brazil and the wheat markets to Canada,” said Patty Judge, Iowa’s former lieutenant governor.
The trade hit, they said, has been compounded by the administration’s liberal granting of refinery waivers from federal ethanol requirements. Those have contributed to the idling of dozens of ethanol plants across the country, including several in Iowa.
“No one wins when four ethanol plants are forced to close or when factories like John Deere have to lay off workers as a direct result of the Trump and Pence policies affecting the agricultural sector,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said.
The Trump administration last week announced a new ethanol plan that the industry praised as a big win, but Iowa Democrats on Wednesday noted that the proposal still must be fleshed out in writing and go through a public comment period.
Midwestern Republicans have been defending the administration’s record on rural issues, in part by hailing that new ethanol plan.
Both of Iowa’s GOP senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, appeared Wednesday with Pence, who also spoke later at a fundraiser for Ernst.
“President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Joni Ernst have worked hard to deliver for Iowans, from a big win on ethanol to advocating for a good trade deal in USMCA,” Ernst campaign spokeswoman Brook Ramlet said in a statement. “These leaders understand the important role Iowa’s economy plays and it’s time Democrats stop playing games, start listening to Iowans, and actually move forward on USMCA.”
Grassley, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee responsible for trade issues, told reporters on a conference call that negotiations on USMCA continue. Grassley suggested that the deal is likely to get ratified but added that the clock is ticking. He said it’s important to wrap it up before the end of the year because big items tend not to be tackled in an election year like 2020.
Grassley also said China needs to realize past presidents let them get away with murder and President Trump isn’t willing to do that.
“I wish the rest of the world would start applauding the president for running the gauntlet for the rest of the globe,” Grassley said.