Trump asks Congress for USMCA support, tariff powers


By Ryan McCrimmon, POLITICO



— President Donald Trump talked up his trade agenda in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. But Trump’s hardline tariff policies are drawing increased scrutiny on Capitol Hill — including another bipartisan bill to limit Trump’s ability to impose duties based on national security.


— Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said states should “be prepared” to possibly dole out April SNAP benefits well in advance if the government shuts down again after Feb. 15, but USDA hasn’t decided whether it would use the early payment option a second time.


— Sen. Chuck Grassley is expected to support Andrew Wheeler for EPA administrator, even though Wheeler hasn’t made any promises about his stance on biofuel waivers for small refiners. Grassley argued the acting EPA chief appears more inclined to help ethanol makers than former Administrator Scott Pruitt.


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TRUMP ASKS CONGRESS FOR USMCA SUPPORT, TARIFF POWERS: In his first State of the Union address to a divided Congress, the president talked about his signature trade achievement that’s now partly in the hands of the new Democratic House majority. The new North American trade pact is one of the biggest issues on the 2019 congressional agenda.


Trump touted the so-called U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement as a win for farmers and manufacturers — and a no-brainer compared with the “historic trade blunder” and “catastrophe known as NAFTA.”


But Democrats have already asked for changes, including stronger enforceability of labor protections, and lawmakers on both sides have suggested there’s little hope for approving the new pact while Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico remain in place.


Meanwhile, with a March deadline looming, Trump was measured in his comments on a potential U.S.-China trade deal. He reiterated that any agreement with Beijing “must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit, and protect American jobs.”


— Mark your calendar: Trump said he’ll meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Vietnam on Feb. 27-28. He could use the trip to also meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, just ahead of the March 1 deadline to strike a trade deal before Trump moves to ratchet up tariffs.


Tariff powers: The president also asked Congress to pass legislation from Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) that would expand his power to impose tariffs in response to other nations’ duties — but many lawmakers are eyeing the opposite approach.


A bipartisan group led by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is already planning to file legislation today that would scale back Trump’s tariff authority, giving Congress the power to block duties imposed by the president for national security reasons, Pro Trade’s Sabrina Rodriguez and Megan Cassella report.


Grassley, who’ll have a huge hand in advancing Trump’s trade agenda through Congress, indicated Portman’s measure might be preferable to a similar bill from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), S. 287 (116), which he said was probably “too blunt.” But the Finance chairman has yet to endorse a plan and is seeking a compromise approach on reining in Trump’s tariff powers, writes Pro Trade’s Adam Behsudi.




Shutdown repeat? ... 


— The department has funding for March SNAP benefits ...


Farm bill priorities ... 


USDA plans to hold listening sessions ...


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