ROBERT COSTA: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Robert Costa.
Most of the hearings this week were on the partisan articles of impeachment and that whole debate, but there was also bipartisanship in the air, dealmaking. The president’s aides and House Democrats have reached a deal on North American trade. They announced a revised U.S., Mexico, and Canada agreement on Tuesday. Democrats found the deal agreeable once the White House removed some intellectual property protections for drug companies and obtained commitments from Mexico on some reform which won support from labor unions.
Joining us tonight to discuss all of this, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times; Karoun Demirjian, congressional reporter for The Washington Post focusing on national security; Jake Sherman, senior writer for POLITICO and co-author of Playbook; and Darlene Superville, White House reporter for the Associated Press.
Stocks also hit record highs this week as the president announced the U.S. and China agreed to a deal to suspend tariffs on Chinese goods that were set to take effect this weekend. Although some details of the deal are unclear and the two sides have not yet reached a larger agreement, President Trump hailed Friday’s developments.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) We have the China deal, as you know. It was just approved a little while ago, and it’s – to me it’s not complicated, but that’s what I do. It’s a phenomenal deal.
MR. COSTA: Jake, Speaker Pelosi has been holding back on this for a long time. Labor bought in. Was that what kicked this all into gear on USMCA, or was it about impeachment and the Democrats searching for an issue as well?
JAKE SHERMAN: I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not sure it’s knowable. Nancy Pelosi keeps her cards close to her vest. She’s probably the single most masterful, skilled legislator of our time, whether you like her politics or not. But I will say the timing was fortuitous for Democrats and Democrats really – we talked about this, but really did drive this process, I mean, demanded – Nancy Pelosi from the beginning demanded additions to the bill on labor protections, on all sorts of intellectual property rights, and ensured that this was something that she was not going to make the same mistake or allow Democrats to make the same mistake they did with NAFTA, where they felt after a certain period of time burned by the provisions and people, in her words, didn’t live up to their commitments. She said that was the lesson learned from NAFTA, which she supported, that they needed additional protections. They needed to make sure it was sewed up to a degree that they could feel comfortable voting for it really on the eve of an election year.
MR. COSTA: Darlene, when you see the president making moves on China and trade and the stock market being at a record high, do your sources at the White House feel comfortable about their position on the economy heading into 2020? Are they going to say regardless of impeachment at least the economy is strong?
DARLENE SUPERVILLE: Oh, definitely, and that is one of the bigger if not the biggest selling point the president has, and a lot of his – the White House officials, his advisors, allies outside the White House, they all wish that he would focus more and talk more about the economy because it is a bright spot for him. But instead, he gets wrapped up in a lot of other things.
MR. COSTA: The USMCA, how significant is it as a trade pact? Is this something – is it just a tweak of NAFTA? Is this going to be looked back as a trademark piece of legislation, or is it really just the president twisting the knob?
PETER BAKER: If you listen to the president it’s the biggest trade deal in the history of the world and the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s more modest than that. It’s an update. Obviously, NAFTA is a quarter-century old and people on both sides thought it was time to modernize for a lot of reasons. Actually, the TPP trade deal that President Obama negotiated before leaving office and that President Trump dumped in effect would have modernized NAFTA because Mexico and Canada were both part of that, so what President Trump did was took a lot of the things that had already been negotiated, built them into this agreement, and most people seem to think it’s a better agreement. What’s interesting is that on this issue President Trump is more aligned with the Democrats than with the Republicans, at least historically, Republicans of course being more of a free-trade party, President Trump being more of a protectionist at heart. There was this room for an agreement because they shared a certain skepticism of NAFTA as a whole and free trade as a principle. So that was an area where they could have gotten along even earlier, but it has now finally taken place.
MR. COSTA: Karoun, you’ve covered national security for quite some time, and you don’t see the president taking a tough line on Hong Kong, on the Chinese and their treatment of Muslims, eager for a trade deal. Is that unusual in American politics, or is that – are we seeing a warmer approach to China in both parties?
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN: I think that there has been a lot of criticism of this president across the board with China, with other countries for – with whom we have issues about the way they run their population, and I think a big criticism of both President Trump and people in his administration have been that they are not putting out a marker of this is what you need to do about your human rights problems and we will not trade on that at the same time as we discuss elements – issues like trade with you. I think the reason that they – people are frustrated with President Trump, and the frustration is across both parties, is that he’s not speaking both tracks at the same time. So it is fairly unique, I suppose, to have a president just kind of talk so openly about the idea that everything is all, you know, one big pot and can be negotiated around, and that is not the way that presidents have gone about doing things in recent memory, really – although, you know, it’s – sometimes the president then also talks tough. So it’s weird. If you look for critics, I guess, around Capitol Hill and the political circles, you will sometimes find them when he says something that they find egregious and too much handing over the store to a foreign leader or a foreign dictator, and then you’ll see people cheering him when he’s talking about the exact same administration and the exact same country because he says something that’s tough on Twitter, and so it’s difficult to kind of keep track of what his center path is.
MR. SHERMAN: You know, I will say among his allies on Capitol Hill there is a – even Republicans who disagree with him on foreign policy, they admire begrudgingly the fact that he could say, listen, North Korea is not for us going to stop their human rights abuses, and neither is Iran, and neither are all these countries; but if we can get them to make changes around the margins, it’s better than no changes at all. That’s my – I’m not defending it; I’m just saying what – some of his allies on Capitol Hill think it’s a more realistic, updated view of foreign policy that you can look at a country and say, you know what, not going to change at all, but can we get them to make certain changes that are mutually beneficial? Yes.
MS. DEMIRJIAN: It’s a fundamentally, though, pessimistic view of world politics –
MR. SHERMAN: Oh, for – and of American power, right?
MS. DEMIRJIAN: Of American power, but also about how countries work. I mean, look, we’re talking about Ukraine a lot, right? Five, six years ago, Ukraine was one of those countries – oh, it’ll never change; oh, it has a, you know, leader this way, too close to Russia. It did change. And so it’s kind of – you know, yes, many of these places are very top down, you know, very, very government-centric economies, political systems, everything, but there was an idealism in American foreign policy that existed before and was projected before, and that idealism is gone. And when you get rid of the – not gone, but it’s taken more of a backseat. And when you take that idealism off the table, you’re really just talking to whoever’s in the leadership place of that country, no, and not the people of that country –
MR. BAKER: No, I think that’s right. I think other presidents have been sort of realpolitik about China in the past. It’s not like you can isolate it like Cuba. It’s not like Iran. China’s too big to pretend that you can – you can wall it off. So when Tiananmen Square happens, George Bush’s main priority is keeping ties with China even as he says, you know, critical things. But what’s different is what Karoun just said, the lack of – what President Trump doesn’t do is give voice, at least, to the ideals and the values that American has espoused in the world, even as we have not always fulfilled our own, you know, lofty words. And for him it’s hypocritical, and maybe that’s more, you know, transparent or honest in a way, but there is a, you know, tradeoff as well when you’re not at least even giving that as an aspiration that you’re setting out for the rest of the world to try to meet.
MR. COSTA: We saw in Britain this week with the election of the Conservatives to their big majority that nationalism’s on the rise, a different style of politics on the rise, not just here but abroad.
MS. SUPERVILLE: The one point I was going to – hoping to make in the past discussion was that, you know, President Trump also is kind of a transactional president, and a lot of his dealings with different countries, it comes down to dollars and cents, right? He talks a lot about Saudi Arabia and how they buy all these weapons and that’s important to him. And even with Ukraine it came down to money and corruption and why isn’t the – at least he says – why isn’t the United – why is the United States always the one that’s sending aid to these countries; why isn’t Europe doing more, that sort of thing. And so that’s also, I think, something that just feeds his view and the way he deals with the world and the way he sees the world.
MR. COSTA: A lot of deals amid impeachment. That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on our website. While you’re there, check out the Washington Week-ly News Quiz.
I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for joining us and see you next time.