Washington Insider --Wednesday

Another Fight Over a DACA Vote

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Mexico Hits U.S. Pork, Other Products with Duties

Mexico has published a list of products it will hit with import duties, including U.S. pork products like legs (hams) and shoulders. The duties will be at 10% initially and rise to 20% on July 5.

The duties are a response to the Trump administration announcement last week that they will hit imports of steel and aluminum from Mexico and other countries with duties.

The Mexican government briefed Mexican pork producers on the action Monday, Reuters reported. Mexico's pork industry association OPORPA is supporting the decision, noting there are more supplier options out there, including Canada, the European Union (EU) and Brazil. Canada already enjoys duty-free access to Mexico via NAFTA and the EU has favorable treatment via the trade deal they finalized with Mexico earlier.

Mexico imported nearly 650,000 metric tons of pork legs and shoulders in 2017 worth some $1.07 billion, according to government data, with total Mexican pork imports at 840,000 metric tons for the year. The 20% duties imposed by Mexico will also apply to U.S. apples and potatoes with duties of 20% to 25% on some U.S. cheese and bourbon.

Mexico will also open a 350,000-tonne tariff-free quota for imports of pork legs and shoulders from other suppliers.

NEC's Kudlow Echoing Trump on Splitting NAFTA

President Donald Trump is now "seriously considering" splitting the NAFTA 2.0 talks into individual discussions with Mexico and Canada, White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told Fox News.

The comments from Kudlow came as Trump again talked Monday of splitting the trade deal into separate packages, something he has mentioned in the past. Kudlow said that Trump has asked him to discuss the possibility of moving the talks to bilaterals instead of the current three-way discussions.

However, trade observers note that such a strategy would require several actions first, including the U.S. exiting NAFTA, something which has not yet happened. But some trade policy experts are not dismissing bilateral accords discussed while the current NAFTA is still in place.

Trump does not intend to withdraw from NAFTA, Kudlow said on Fox & Friends. But after more than one year of multilateral discussions, he feels the current approach has not been fruitful and a new one is needed, Kudlow said.

"His preference now — and he asked me to convey this — is to actually negotiate with Mexico and Canada separately," Kudlow said. "He prefers bilateral negotiations."

Washington Insider: Another Fight Over a DACA Vote

In the midst of chaotic fights over many important policies, the stalemate between two wings of the House Republican conference over the Dreamers program likely will continue to add yet another tough fight, POLITICO says this week. It thinks House Republicans are on the brink of an embarrassing showdown that Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his leadership team have been desperately trying to avoid.

As lawmakers left Washington for the Memorial Day recess in late May, GOP centrists gave immigration hard-liners a choice: Allow a vote on a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers — or we’ll team with Democrats to force votes on bipartisan immigration legislation you hate.

Still, most House Freedom Caucus members are spurning the offer, POLITICO says. “Negotiations are ongoing, but … I do not believe that the American people elected Republicans to create any type of ‘special pathway’ to citizenship for the DACA individuals,” said Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who’s negotiating with moderates and GOP leaders. “So we’re trying to work around that. That to me is a real concern.”

The stalemate between the two wings of the conference all but assures a chaotic June for Ryan. Leadership hoped to stop moderates from rounding up the 218 signatures for a discharge petition needed to trigger the immigration vote on the House floor. However, Democrats are poised to join with several dozen centrist Republicans to pass a bill codifying the Obama-era DACA program.

However, the recent effort to strike a compromise to avoid the vote has fallen short. Centrists are adamant that those brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents as children be given a path into the legal system. To become a citizen, Dreamers currently have to marry a U.S. citizen or return to their birth nations — countries some of them don't even remember — for several years before applying to return to the place they currently call home.

GOP leaders have scheduled a two-hour immigration meeting on Thursday to try again to break the impasse. Moderates also have designated that day, June 7, as a soft deadline for securing 218 signatures, which would tee up the immigration vote for June 25.

Currently, they’re five signatures away but expect to clear that threshold easily.

Despite conservative skepticism, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., a leader of the discharge petition, said Freedom Caucus leaders have assured him they’re still considering a compromise. And some group members, including Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., have signaled a willingness to consider a deal.

Nevertheless, getting the caucus to go along with a vote on citizenship without President Donald Trump's blessing seems unlikely at best, Politico says.

While Freedom Caucus members are desperate to stop the discharge petition, they, like GOP leaders, believe House passage of a DACA bill without significant immigration reforms would hurt Republicans in the midterms. It would also expose that their own, more conservative DACA bill doesn‘t have the votes to pass.

But the price moderates are demanding to stop the votes isn’t worth the heat most lawmakers on the far-right flank of the conference would take for allowing it to happen.

“No way,” said Freedom Caucus member Dave Brat, R-Va., when asked about the citizenship trade-off. And showing just how toxic the debate has become, Brat scolded POLITICO for calling the petition backers “moderate” Republicans.

Outside anti-immigration groups also say they don’t think the conservatives should bend over backward to compromise at the moment, POLITICO says.

RJ Hauman, government relations director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform and his group has told conservatives that their leverage will increase next year if the Supreme Court upholds Trump’s decision to suspend DACA.

Andrew Arthur of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies said the bar would have to be extremely high for the right to accept citizenship for Dreamers — and it would have to be paired with severe restrictions on immigration going forward. Without it, he said, it would lead to “more people encouraged to cross illegally hoping they get into the next amnesty.”

Many Freedom Caucus members are receptive to that case — despite the pressure on them from leadership and centrists, POLITICO says, and likely would reject even a bill that includes a border wall with Mexico, more enforcement officers and limits on legal immigration backed by Trump.

Not all conservatives are dug in on the matter, POLITICO thinks. It notes that Freedom Caucus member Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, said he was open to a pathway to citizenship that’s accompanied by conservative immigration provisions like those in the Goodlatte bill. Warren said he doesn’t back a “special pathway” but argued that he could be amenable to allowing Dreamers to apply for green cards eventually.

“If you’re registered, you’re officially in the system. Then at the end of the five-year period, having a standard pathway to citizenship and a green card makes sense to me,” Davidson said. “If you’re here, you’re law-abiding, you’re engaged in the economy, you’re working … that’s not a ‘special path.’ That’s what people do when they come to America legally.”

So, we will see. While at least some Republicans are finding support for Dreamers from their constituents ahead of the fall elections, the issue is still among the most bitter of the many faced by this Congress. And, while there seems to be a chance for House action this year, there are many hurdles to passage that likely will continue to muddy Washington politics for the foreseeable future, and which producers should watch closely as they emerge, Washington Insider believes.

Want to keep up with events in Washington and elsewhere throughout the day? See DTN Top Stories, our frequently updated summary of news developments of interest to producers. You can find DTN Top Stories in DTN Ag News, which is on the Main Menu on classic DTN products and on the News and Analysis Menu of DTN’s Professional and Producer products. DTN Top Stories is also on the home page and news home page of online.dtn.com. Subscribers of MyDTN.com should check out the US Ag Policy, US Farm Bill and DTN Ag News sections on their News Homepage.

If you have questions for DTN Washington Insider, please email edit@dtn.com