House Republicans are willing to blow up a new trade agreement over LGBTQ rights

Bil Browning

Donald Trump likes to blow up trade agreements so he can get new ones. Republicans in Congress are happy to join in his crusade—but only when a new agreement means LGBTQ rights.

Trump has long complained about NAFTA, the Clinton-era agreement with Mexico and Canada. After months of negotiation, the countries have arrived at a new agreement, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA). USMCA isn’t all that different from the old one, except in one key respect: It includes nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

That’s enough for a group of ultra-conservative Republicans to rise up in arms. In a letter to Trump, 40 representatives “strongly urge” the president to remove the offending language.

“A trade agreement is no place for the adoption of social policy,” the Republicans write. “It is especially inappropriate and insulting to our sovereignty to needlessly submit to social policies which the United States Congress has so far explicitly refused to accept.”

The letter also notes, accurately, that the kind words about LGBTQ rights in the agreement fly in the face of the administration’s policies. or as the letter puts it “a cohesive agenda regarding policies surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity.” The language in the trade agreement is “contradictory” to the administration’s vicious attacks on LGBTQ rights. 

The letter is signed by such bigoted luminaries as Steve King, Vicky Hartlzer, and Louis Gohmert, all of whom won re-election this month.

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The language in the trade agreement is thanks to the Canadian government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apparently insisted on the protections in exchange for his government’s willingness to renegotiate the original agreement. In sharp contrast with Trump, Trudeau has been an enthusiastic supporter of LGBTQ rights. 

“We succeeded at getting gender discrimination, more broadly, included in the deal,” said a Canadian official. “We viewed it as important to get gender identity included in the agreement. It’s a win for us.”

The group of anti-LGBTQ Republicans who signed the letter is sizable enough to cause problems. The new trade agreement will need to be ratified by Congress, and it’s not clear exactly how Democrats will view the final product. Trump may not have a lot of room for defections.

The irony is that the LGBTQ protections in the agreement are unlikely to have any impact on U.S. law. The Trump administration could easily ignore the provisions, which would ruffle some Canadian feathers and lead to some messy discussions, but probably wouldn’t threaten the rest of the agreement.

But for the 40 Republicans, ignoring language about LGBTQ rights isn’t good enough. From their perspective, that language needs to be erased — much the way they want to erase LGBTQ people altogether.

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