The relationship between U.S. President Donald Trump and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has reached a nadir amid negotiations over the congressional ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, adding further drama to the trade pact’s already uncertain prospects.
At a White House press conference Thursday, the President claimed the Speaker did not comprehend USMCA and referred to her as “crazy Nancy.”
“I don’t think Nancy Pelosi understands the deal. It’s too complicated,” Mr. Trump said. “She’s a mess. Look. Let’s face it, she doesn’t understand it.”
At one point in the news conference, the President referred to himself as an “extremely stable genius.”
Ms. Pelosi replied on Twitter. “When the ‘extremely stable genius’ starts acting more presidential, I’ll be happy to work with him on infrastructure, trade and other issues,” she said.
When the “extremely stable genius” starts acting more presidential, I’ll be happy to work with him on infrastructure, trade and other issues. https://t.co/tfWVkj9CLT— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) May 23, 2019
The explosion came after several days of escalating tension, during which the President told the Speaker he would refuse to help her pass a package of infrastructure spending unless she first ensured the passage of USMCA and stopped congressional ethics investigations into him.
Ms. Pelosi had accused Mr. Trump of throwing a “tantrum” at a meeting and called for an “intervention” over his behaviour.
The increasingly personal attacks cast doubt on the already fraught chances of ratifying Mr. Trump’s signature trade agreement. Congressional Democrats have demanded changes to the deal to toughen labour and environmental rules, and it was already unclear whether the Trump administration would be able to satisfy them.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has been meeting with Democrats in a bid to build support for the pact, but it is unclear whether he can meet their demands without reopening the deal. Both Canada and Mexico have said they will not negotiate further changes to the agreement.
Mr. Trump said Thursday that Ms. Pelosi had asked for a further two weeks of talks before Mr. Lighthizer formally sends the deal to Congress for ratification. The President said this was too long to wait.
Ratification prospects received a shot in the arm last week when the U.S. reached a deal with Canada and Mexico to lift tariffs on their steel and aluminum. Both countries had said they would not approve the deal until the tariffs ended. Some pro-free-trade Republicans in Congress had also demanded the levies be removed.
The Trudeau government is working on implementing legislation for ratifying the deal that could be introduced as soon as next week, The Globe and Mail has reported, meaning it could be completed before Parliament rises in June.
Daniel Ujczo, an Ohio-based trade lawyer, said congressional trade discussions have been progressing in recent days and Mr. Trump’s assailing of Ms. Pelosi threatened to distract from the work on Capitol Hill.
“It’s unfortunately taken us on a side track, as there seemed to be some positive movement toward ratification,” said Mr. Ujczo, of the firm Dickinson Wright. “It looks like one end of Pennsylvania Avenue was working toward getting resolution, while the other is focused on theatre.”
The problem, he said, is that it will take time for Mr. Lighthizer and the Democrats to reach agreement but the clock is ticking toward the 2020 presidential election. The closer it gets to the election, the more difficult it will be to get the deal through.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump used a White House meeting with Ms. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, to demand they stop investigating his finances and ties to Russia. Mr. Trump then left the room after just five minutes.
After the meeting, Ms. Pelosi said Mr. Trump had thrown a “temper tantrum.” At a Thursday press conference, the Speaker said she was concerned about the President’s well-being.
“I pray for the President of the United States,” she told reporters on Capitol Hill. “I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.”
This appears to have bothered Mr. Trump, who used his Thursday event – which had been called to announce government help for farmers hurt by his trade war with China – to repeatedly ask aides to confirm that he had not thrown a tantrum during his meeting the day before.