President Trump reassured Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts at a White House event this week that he would be pleased with the outcome of the NAFTA negotiations.
Roberts, who has been repeatedly pressuring the White House not to withdraw the United States agreement or to make concessions that would harm agricultural trade, said the president brought up the issue when the senator went to greet him at the White House’s congressional Christmas party this week.
“Before I could even say Merry Christmas, Mr. President, he looked at me and put his thumb up and said, “We’re going to be all right on NAFTA,” Roberts, R-Kan., said during an interview for C-Span’s weekly Newsmakers show, which is airing Sunday.
Trump's remark to Roberts followed a meeting that Trump had on Tuesday with a group of pro-NAFTA senators, including Joni Ernst of Iowa.
Roberts, who was interviewed by Philip Brasher of Agri-Pulse and Siobhan Hughes of The Wall Street Journal, also said that he was sure that he can get a new farm bill enacted by the end of next year.
He said he hoped to have a “blueprint” for the farm bill ready by January or February “that both Democrats and Republicans can agree with, and then work with our House members to see if we can get something done.” He didn't provide any specifics.
Asked directly if he was confident of getting the bill enacted, he said, “Oh, my gosh, yes.” But he emphasized, as he had before, that Congress shouldn’t make major changes in the programs authorized by the 2014 farm bill. “If we can extend what we have and make some improvements, make some efficiencies, I think we can do that,” Roberts added, referring to the 2018 goal.
Trade policy, and the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, has dominated Roberts’ attention since Trump took office and immediately withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and threatened to pull out of both NAFTA and the Korean trade pact.
Roberts said that he is increasingly optimistic about the direction of the president’s trade policy despite what he described as the “ideological” tendencies of the White House trade office led by Peter Navarro.
He said the White House is undertaking “a needed dialogue” on what should be the nation’s “best trade policy. Those of us in agriculture say we have to have stability and predictability.”
He added, “I’m still optimistic that we’ll have a robust trade policy both on the things we make and that we grow.”
Roberts, who is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, acknowledged that Republicans have yet to convince the public of the benefits of the tax cuts that Republicans hope to enact before Congress.
Polls indicate strong public distrust of the tax measures despite Republican promises that the cuts in tax rates for corporations, farms and small businesses will stimulate economic growth. Bills passed by the House and Senate would both slash the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and would also reduce taxes on income from sole proprietorships, partnerships and S corporations.
“The more people understand what is in the bill, and we do a better job of selling it, I think that will change,” he said of public perceptions.