Senate Passes US-Canada-Mexico Trade Deal, a Trump Priority
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate overwhelmingly approved a new North American trade agreement Thursday that rewrites the rules of trade with Canada and Mexico and gives President Donald Trump a major policy win before senators turn their full attention to his impeachment trial.
The vote was 89-10. The measure goes to Trump for his signature. It would replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, which tore down most trade barriers and triggered a surge in trade. But Trump and other critics blamed that pact for encouraging U.S. companies to move their manufacturing plants south of the border to take advantage of low-wage Mexican laborers.
Passage of the trade bill, which has come to be called USMCA, came one day after Trump signed a new trade agreement with China, easing trade tensions between the economic powers.
“Quite a week of substantive accomplishments for the nation, for the president and for our international trade,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., shortly before the vote.
The final vote occurred just moments before Congress opened an impeachment trial, with House Democrats reading the formal charges from the well of the Senate. With the trial and an election year, Congress is not expected to pass many major bills. The trade bill gives lawmakers from both parties the chance to cite progress on an important economic issue before the November vote.
Trump campaigned in 2016 on ripping up trade deals that he said added to the nation’s trade deficit and cost the country manufacturing jobs. He promised he would rewrite NAFTA if elected, a pact he described as “the worst trade deal in history.” He can now go to swing states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and tell voters he followed through on that pledge.
But in the Oval Office, Trump fretted that the impeachment inquiry was overshadowing his trade deals when it came to top stories of the day.
“Today, we just had passed the USMCA. It’s going to take the place of NAFTA, which is a terrible deal, and the USMCA will probably be second to this witch hunt hoax,” Trump said.
Mexico has already approved the agreement. Canada is expected to do so in coming months, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government long insisting it would wait for U.S. approval before proceeding.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was a rare voice in speaking against the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. “It will mean higher prices for American consumers, who will have to pay more money for a car and therefore will have less money available for any of the other things they would like to consume,” Toomey said. “It will probably lead to an increase or acceleration in the shift to automation.”
The agreement aims to have more cars produced in the United States, where workers earn an average of at least $16 an hour. It also secured changes that require Mexico to change its laws to make it easier for workers to form independent unions, which should improve worker conditions and wages and reduce the incentive for U.S. companies to relocate their plants.
While the administration completed its negotiations with Canada and Mexico more than a year ago, Democrats in the House insisted on changes that they said made it more likely Mexico would follow through on its commitments. As part of those negotiations, the administration agreed to drop a provision that offered expensive biologic drugs — made from living cells — 10 years of protection from cheaper knockoff competition. Democrats overwhelming opposed that provision.
Republicans and the president have complained about how long it took to complete the negotiations, but the talks resulted in a rare mix of support for a trade agreement.
The AFL-CIO, an association of trade unions, endorsed the measure, as did scores of business and farm groups. “Getting the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO to both endorse this trade deal was no easy feat, and it took both sides’ good faith efforts to get us here,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
The biggest holdouts were environmental groups, which continue their opposition, saying the deal doesn’t address climate change. Indeed, they contend the agreement would contribute to rising temperatures.
“Despite the fact that it includes very good labor provisions, I am voting against USMCA because it does not address climate change, the greatest threat facing the planet,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Among the senators still seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders was the lone “no” vote.
The International Trade Commission projected in April that the trade agreement would boost the economy by $68 billion and add 176,000 jobs six years after taking effect. That’s barely a ripple in a $21 trillion-a-year economy, but many senators noted that key industries in their state supported the agreement.
Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried Slams Ron DeSantis for Coddling Insurrectionists
- It was Jan. 6, 2021, and a group of die-hard Republicans from Okaloosa County, Florida, had traveled 15 hours north to Washington, for a rally where President Donald Trump urged his followers to try to stop the certification of the election.
- After the rally, as a crowd marched toward the Capitol, some of the Florida contingent peeled off. But Sandra Atkinson – who had just been elected chair of the county’s Republican Party – kept marching.
- According to a USA TODAY review of multiple videos from the day and an interview with a close Republican Party associate, Atkinson proceeded to the Capitol and through the doors. The same kind of activity has led to criminal charges for many who stormed the Capitol Jan. 6 – charges for unlawful entry, picketing or other nonviolent acts.
- Two months later, Atkinson’s name emerged in bold type, in an announcement from DeSantis. She was being given a new job: The governor was appointing her to a statewide regulatory board.
- Giving a political appointment then to a Jan. 6 participant puts DeSantis’ core political dilemma in sharp focus now.
- The governor, who is expected to enter the race for the presidential nomination this week, said nothing during Atkinson’s appointment about her role in the insurrection, which was spurred by his main political rival: Trump. His office now declines to answer any questions about what DeSantis knew about Atkinson before her appointment or during her time as a regulator.
- Contacted by USA TODAY, Atkinson at first denied she had entered the Capitol. She then said she declined to comment. But to others, her role in Jan. 6 was no secret.
- Sherri Edwards Cox, who has long served with Atkinson on the Okaloosa County GOP committee, also marched in Washington, though she says she went back to her hotel rather than into the Capitol. Cox told USA TODAY Atkinson later bragged about going into the building, and claimed to have entered the office of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
- Atkinson’s apparent role in the insurrection does not appear to have interfered with her public role as an influential North Florida Republican. She was reelected chairwoman of the Okaloosa County GOP in December 2022. And she remained in the state oversight role DeSantis had given her for nearly a year.
- Even when she did finally depart the board, there was no public discussion of her activity on Jan. 6.
- Among the thousands of demonstrators marching for Trump Jan. 6, and the many of them who ultimately stormed the Capitol, it can be hard to isolate a specific face or name. But a collection of evidence points to Atkinson’s presence inside the building.
- Atkinson’s trip to Washington for the rally was also well-known. She was one of the chief organizers of the local caravan to Washington. (In March 2021, when a man from Okaloosa County was arrested for entering the Capitol, Atkinson distanced herself from him, saying she didn’t know him and that he didn’t travel with her group.)
- DeSantis’ office repeatedly declined to answer questions from USA TODAY about what it knew about Atkinson, why he appointed her, and why she later left the board.
Attorney General Moody Highlights Support Resources for LEOs During National Police Week and Mental Health Awareness Month
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—In recognition of National Police Week and Mental Health Awareness Month, Attorney General Ashley Moody is highlighting available resources for Florida law enforcement officers. Statistics show, in previous years, that law enforcement officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. According to BlueHelp.org, the national law enforcement suicide rate increased in 2022—however, Florida’s rate decreased. In an effort to further protect Florida’s officers, Attorney General Moody is encouraging any first responder struggling with mental health issues to seek help.
Attorney General Ashley Moody said, “We received some encouraging news this National Police Week and Mental Health Awareness Month. The suicide rate among Florida law enforcement officers declined last year. I want to thank all the mental health experts in Florida who focus efforts on helping our first responders who struggle with the mental health issues brought on because of their service to others. I also encourage anyone struggling to seek help. There are caring professionals available 24/7 who want to help.”
Crisis Center of Tampa Bay President & CEO Clara Reynolds said, “The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay would not be able to support the community to the extent that it does without partnering with local law enforcement agencies. We are so appreciative of their support of the victims of assault they bring to our door, the interventions they provide when someone is contemplating taking their life, and the numerous other ways they step in to keep us all safe. Thank you for choosing this very vital but difficult work each and every day.”
Law enforcement officers face challenging work daily that can take a serious toll on mental health. The Blue H.E.L.P. program seeks to bring awareness to suicide and mental health issues law enforcement officers face. The program, created by Karen Soloman and Jeffrey McGill, offers mental health education, advocates for law enforcement officers and their families and recognizes those lost to mental health causes.
Attorney General Moody wants all law enforcement officers struggling with mental health issues to know that help is available. There are caring people available 24/7 who understand the struggles and challenges that often accompany protecting the public from danger and violence.
The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay is a nonprofit organization developed in 1972 to offer comprehensive services to people in the Tampa Bay community through collaboration and partnerships. With more than 10 different programs that offer a wide range of services and resources to all individuals, the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay is determined to ensure no one in the Tampa Bay community has to face a crisis alone. To learn more, click here.
Since taking office, Attorney General Moody continues to take action to support Florida law enforcement officer mental health, including:
- Urging Congress to pass the Public Safety Officer Support Act of 2022: Last year, Attorney General Moody, joined by 52 other attorneys general, urged Congress to pass the Public Safety Officer Support Act of 2022. The legislation addresses gaps in support for public safety officers who suffer from PTSD associated with the high-risk nature of their jobs. To learn more, click here.
- Presented a Back the Blue Award to an Officer for Supporting Mental Health Awareness: Attorney General Moody presented a Back the Blue Award to a Tallahassee Police Department officer who co-wrote a book with information on mental health awareness and treatment strategies for first responders. Officer Sean Wyman co-authored Going Beyond the Call: Mental Health Fitness for Public Safety Professionals. The book focuses on social-emotional trauma, stress impacts and communication strategies to reduce the number of suicides within the public safety industry. To learn more, click here.
- Recognizing CCTB’s Law Enforcement Suicide Help Line: Attorney General Moody presented a Florida Cabinet resolution recognizing National Suicide Prevention Month in Florida in September 2019. Attorney General Moody then visited CCTB to recognize the then-pilot program called “First to Respond, Last to Ask For Help.” At the time, the program served officers in Hillsborough County with a help line to call for immediate, confidential support. Now, the help line is extended statewide—any officer in the state needing assistance can call 1(866) 4FL-HERO.
Law enforcement officers who are suffering and need help should immediately contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. Law enforcement officers wishing to speak to someone can also call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay’s helpline at 1(866) 4FL-HERO to be connected to an individual for immediate and confidential support. To learn more about the help line, visit LastToAsk.com.
Kari Lake’s lawyers fined in failed Arizona election lawsuit
PHOENIX (AP) — Republican Kari Lake’s lawyers were sanctioned $2,000 Thursday by the Arizona Supreme Court in their unsuccessful challenge of her defeat in the governor’s race last year to Democrat Katie Hobbs.
In an order, the state’s highest court said Lake’s attorney made “false factual statements” that more than 35,000 ballots had been improperly added to the total ballot count. They have 10 days to submit the payment to the court clerk.
The court, however, refused to order Lake to pay attorney fees to cover the costs of defending Hobbs and Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, also a Democrat, in Lake’s appeal.
Chief Justice Robert Brutinel said Lake’s challenge over signature verification remains unresolved.
Hobbs and Fontes said Lake and her attorneys should face sanctions for baselessly claiming that over 35,000 ballots were inserted into the race at a facility where a contractor scanned mail-in ballots to prepare them for county election workers to process and count.
When the high court first confronted Lake’s challenge in late March, justices said the evidence doesn’t show that over 35,000 ballots were added to the vote count in Maricopa County, home to more than 60% of the state’s voters.
Lawyers for Hobbs and Fontes told the court that Lake and her lawyers misrepresented evidence and are hurting the elections process by continuing to push baseless claims of election fraud. Attorneys for Fontes asked for the court to order Lake’s lawyers to forfeit any money they might have earned in making the appeal, arguing that they shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from their own misconduct.
Lake’s lawyers said sanctions weren’t appropriate because no one can doubt that Lake honestly believes her race was determined by electoral misconduct.
Lake, who lost to Hobbs by just over 17,000 votes, was among the most vocal 2022 Republican candidates promoting former President Donald Trump’s election lies, which she made the centerpiece of her campaign. While most other election deniers around the country conceded after losing their races in November, Lake did not.
In her challenge, Lake focused on problems with ballot printers at some polling places in Maricopa County.
The defective printers produced ballots that were too light to be read by the on-site tabulators at polling places. Lines backed up in some areas amid the confusion. Lake alleged ballot printer problems were the result of intentional misconduct.
County officials say everyone had a chance to vote and all ballots were counted because those affected by the printers were taken to more sophisticated counters at election headquarters.
The state Supreme Court declined on March 22 to hear nearly all of Lake’s appeal, saying there was no evidence that 35,000 ballots were added to vote totals.
Still, the high court revived Lake’s claim that challenged the application of signature verification procedures on early ballots in Maricopa County. The court sent the claim back to a lower-court judge to consider. This latest order will allow a trial court to resume litigating the matter.
In mid-February, the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected Lake’s assertions, concluding she presented no evidence that voters whose ballots were unreadable by tabulators at polling places were not able to vote.
Lake’s attorneys said the chain of custody for ballots was broken at an off-site facility where a contractor scans mail-in ballots to prepare them for processing. The lawyers asserted that workers put their own mail-in ballots into the pile rather than returning them through normal channels, and that paperwork documenting ballot transfers was missing. The county disputes the claims.
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