Democrats are not impressed.
“If they think they are going to peel off 25 or 30 of us, in hopes of pressuring the speaker, they are wasting their time,” said Representative Ron Kind, Democrat of Wisconsin, who has been supportive of the new agreement. “Nancy Pelosi is the gatekeeper, and she is not going to allow anything for a floor vote that would divide her caucus.”
Mr. Lighthizer has long cultivated Democratic and labor union support for its revisions to Nafta, including by pushing for a minimum wage requirement for the automotive industry and the end of a special system of arbitration for corporations. Even with all or most Republicans in favor, the deal would likely require the support of roughly two dozen Democrats to pass the House.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly claimed that the agreement would have enough votes to pass immediately if it were brought to the floor; Democrats quietly concede that he is probably right.
In addition to Democrats’ concerns about enforcement of the labor standards, some have also criticized the pact’s extended protections for a class of advanced drugs called biosimilars, saying that they might undermine congressional efforts to make health care more affordable.
Democrats claim their concerns are purely about policy, not politics. But they are still debating exactly what their demands will be. Two of them, Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Ron Wyden of Oregon, want the agreement to require Mexico to provide additional funding for labor enforcement and to allow United States and Mexico to carry out audits and verifications of corporate labor standards. If a business breaks the rules, the United States could subject the company’s goods to higher tariffs or forbid their import into the country altogether.
The Trump administration has said the Democratic demands would slow down and potentially stop the passage of a trade deal that would be beneficial for American companies and workers. Officials have said they do not want to reopen negotiations for fear that the new Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a liberal populist, would demand more substantive changes.
One thing both sides agree on: Time is not working in favor of the deal.
And the longer Congress waits to consider the pact, the greater the likelihood that voting for the successor to Nafta, a deal criticized by Democrats and Mr. Trump alike, could become a liability in the 2020 election.