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Trump Claims Nafta Victory but Deal Faces Long Odds in U.S.

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President Trump declared victory on Friday at a ceremonial signing of the new North American Free Trade Agreement[1] in Buenos Aires, predicting that gaining congressional approval needed to enact the pact with Mexico and Canada would not be “very much of a problem.”

In reality, it is a problem. The trade pact’s political fate — already uncertain given Democrats will soon control the House — has only dimmed since General Motors said this week that it planned to idle five factories in North America and cut nearly 15,000 jobs to trim costs.

Congressional Democrats remain open to supporting a revised trade deal. But they — along with business leaders and free-trade Republicans — have become increasingly pessimistic that the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement can win enough votes in the House without significant concessions from Mexico, like mandatory wage increases, to stem the loss of American automobile and other factory jobs.

Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat in line to lead the House next year[2], described it on Friday as a “work in progress” and cautioned that the current draft did not go far enough. “What isn’t in it yet is enough enforcement reassurances regarding workers, provisions that relate to workers and to the environment.”

Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat, said that without changes, Mr. Trump “will have real trouble getting Democrats to support the deal.”

At least one major labor union, the 600,000-member International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, came out against the new agreement on Friday, a move that could encourage other labor leaders to ratchet up criticism of a deal most view as, at best, a modest improvement on the 25-year-old Nafta.

“As currently written, and without further changes along the lines we continue to propose, Nafta 2.0 will do little if anything to stop the outsourcing from the U.S. and Canada and the related wage suppression of workers in Mexico,” said Robert Martinez Jr., the union’s president. “Unless major changes are made, we cannot support Nafta 2.0.”

Representative Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat who represents a heavily industrialized swath of Ohio from Toledo to Cleveland, criticized the ceremonial signing as a “staged production” and signaled that other Midwest Democrats, a key voting bloc in the House, would not support the deal without major changes.

“President Trump has claimed premature victory,” she said.

Mr. Trump has been promising to “rip up” Nafta[3] since he began running for president, and the ceremonial signing on Friday came after more than a year of tense and often acrimonious negotiations over the trade agreement’s provisions, particularly those related to auto production and dairy[4].

Mr. Trump pushed hard behind the scenes to ensure that Friday’s symbolic, flag-bedecked signing ceremony with the leaders of Canada and Mexico took place. His staff spent much of the preceding 48 hours coaxing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada to appear at the event so that three North American leaders, not just Mr. Trump and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, would appear onstage, according to people familiar with the planning.

But it was strictly ceremonial. Under the United States’ fast-track trade rules[5], the deal must pass the House, where all bills that affect federal revenue must originate, before moving to the Senate for final passage.

Technically, the deal that the three trading partners signed cannot be altered. But in reality, the administration is free to renegotiate with Canada and Mexico to make changes that could ultimately be included in final legislation. If nothing is passed, Mr. Trump could pull out of Nafta, as he has long threatened, or simply continue operating under the old rules.

The Democratic takeover of the House has created anxiety among business groups and legislators, who are urging Republican leaders to push for a vote on the proposal in the lame-duck session, before Democrats assume control.

“Manufacturers need certainty now, not later,” said Jay Timmons, president and chief executive of the National Association of Manufacturers. “With two million American jobs dependent on exports to Canada and Mexico, Congress needs to move expeditiously.”

Mr. Timmons’s group, along with other trade associations and Republican Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, have unsuccessfully pressed House and Senate leaders to quickly pass the deal.

Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, has been quietly pushing a revision to the trade agreement aimed at improving wages and working conditions in Mexico. The provision would require that Mexican imports to the United States be certified as having been produced in accordance with labor standards, according to American officials.

The plan, which won the support of Robert E. Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, this year, would carry stiff criminal penalties for importers who violate the trade agreement and would also bolster inspection procedures.

But it was rejected by Mexican officials, including the incoming president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, according to two people familiar with the talks. But Mr. Brown, who is close to Mr. Lighthizer, is renewing his push to increase the pressure on Mexico, and is likely to submit a range of proposals to the administration, a spokeswoman for Mr. Brown said.

President Trump badly wants union leaders to back his signature trade deal, but they have thus far demurred.

He has met with labor officials three times since February urging them to sign onto the new deal, according to administration officials, repeatedly assuring participants that he was driving the hardest possible bargain.

In recent months, Mr. Trump’s aides stepped up their courtship in a futile attempt to persuade union leaders, especially the United Steelworkers president, Leo W. Gerard, to publicly back the new Nafta before the midterms. But Mr. Gerard has held off, and on Friday he pressed the White House to negotiate a better agreement.

“Only when all the issues have been resolved and it’s clear that Mexico is fully and faithfully recognizing workers’ rights, should Congress vote on the agreement and implementing legislation,” Mr. Gerard said in a statement.

There are also lingering concerns about the deal in Canada, where officials remain incensed that the agreement does not include a deal to lift the sweeping steel and aluminum tariffs that Mr. Trump has imposed on Canada, Mexico and other allies.

Until late Thursday night, it was not clear that Mr. Trudeau would attend the signing.

Mr. Lighthizer and his Canadian counterparts wrangled over a possible deal[6] that would impose quotas on metal imports in exchange for a gradual decrease in the tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. But those talks have so far failed.

If Mr. Trump celebrated the agreement as a fulfillment of his campaign promise to scrap Nafta, Mr. Trudeau played down the deal as a backstop that “maintains stability” for his country’s economy.

“That’s why I’m here today,” he said alluding to his last-minute decision to appear in front of the cameras with Mr. Trump and Mr. Peña Nieto.

But his attendance also seemed intended to temper Mr. Trump’s glee, and he lamented recent North American plant closures by General Motors as “a heavy blow” and sharply criticized the metal tariffs as an unnecessary drag on the economies of both countries.

“Donald, it’s all the more reason we need to keep working to remove the tariffs on steel and aluminum between our countries,” he said as Mr. Trump looked on.

References

  1. ^ new North American Free Trade Agreement (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ in line to lead the House next year (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ promising to “rip up” Nafta (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ dairy (www.nytimes.com)
  5. ^ Under the United States’ fast-track trade rules (www.nytimes.com)
  6. ^ possible deal (www.nytimes.com)

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Houston Recalls Legacy of George Bush, Its Lone Star Yankee and Senior Booster

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HOUSTON — Inside the airport that bears his name, George Herbert Walker Bush looks, at a distance, as if he’s wearing a cape.

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue at the Houston airport shows Mr. Bush, who , Barbara Bush[4], who died in April at the age of 92. After Mr. Bush’s death on Friday, Houston lost its two most famous residents in the span of seven months.

“George H.W. Bush served with valor and integrity as the 41st president of the United States,” Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, said in a statement. “But to Houstonians he was one of our most esteemed and relatable neighbors. He and his wife, Barbara Bush, were our sports teams’ biggest fans, and boosters for everything Houston.”

This was the man whose most memorable quote in years had to do with men’s hosiery. In 2012, as his fondness for wearing bright eye-catching socks was going strong, he explained that he simply “likes a good sock.” At his wife’s funeral at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Mr. Bush wore a pair of socks with a colorful stack-of-books design, a tribute to Mrs. Bush’s advocacy work for family literacy.

In Houston and its surrounding suburbs, Mr. Bush had not only an airport in his name but a park, a high school and a few more life-size statues. Above Buffalo Bayou, a bronze statue of Mr. Bush looks out into the distance with his hand in his pocket, gazing at, of all things, James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Mr. Bush’s tennis partner at the Houston Country Club. The statues of the two close friends face each other in the downtown park, separated by about 100 yards, in Houston’s oddest and longest-running staring contest.

“All I can do now,” Mr. Bush told The New York Times in 2011 about the statue, “is hope that the pigeons will be kind and gentle.”

Charles C. Foster, a Houston immigration lawyer and a longtime friend of the Bush family, came up with the idea for the George H.W. Bush Monument, which was unveiled in 2004. Mr. Foster recalled the day he sat in Mr. Bush’s office at 10000 Memorial Drive and asked for his blessing for the project.

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Mr. Bush in 1970, when he was a congressman.CreditAssociated Press

“He looked at me and he sort of looked up at the ceiling,” Mr. Foster said. “He pointed to the ceiling and said, ‘Shouldn’t you wait until I’m up there?’ And then he said, pointing downward, ‘Or perhaps down there?’”

In 1990, Mr. Bush helped turn the eyes of the world to Houston.

As president, he brought thousands of reporters and foreign dignitaries to Houston that summer for the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations, an annual gathering of the world’s economic powers. The summits had been held in a number of global cities — London, Tokyo, Paris, Venice — and Mr. Bush made the case that his adopted hometown belonged among such world-class company.

Houston was scrappier back then. The city was rebounding from an oil bust in the 1980s that crippled the economy, and it tried hard to present its best, and cleanest, face to the cameras and the visitors, picking up millions of pounds of trash, repaving roads and enlisting the aid of 12,000 volunteers.

“That was huge for Houston,” Mr. Foster said of the 1990 summit. “When the president had a chance, he could have picked some mountain retreat. But he picked his hometown. He was well aware of the chip on our shoulders that we didn’t feel like Houston got the recognition that it should.”

Now, with 2.3 million residents (compared with 1.6 million in 1990), Houston is the fourth-largest city in America, known as much for its diversity as its energy-capital status. George Bush High School, part of the Fort Bend school district, is 43 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black, 12 percent Asian and 4 percent white. More than 90 languages and dialects are spoken in the district.

Early Saturday morning in the upscale Tanglewood area, Houstonians paused at the gates at South Post Oak Lane and North West Oak Drive — the entrance to the gated community where Mr. Bush lived. Someone draped an American flag in the center of the gates, decorated for the holidays with Christmas wreaths.

Shirley Matthews, 66, a lifelong Houstonian who lives nearby, walked up and took a picture of the memorial for her mother. “He was just a good person,” she said. “He wasn’t perfect. But it’s family, and we love each other.”

References

  1. ^ died at his home here on Friday (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ Read the obituary of George H.W. Bush. (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ the funeral for his wife (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ Barbara Bush (www.nytimes.com)

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A Close Race, a Mysterious Ballot and Control of Alaska’s House at Stake

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With a crucial legislative seat in Alaska teetering toward a tie earlier this month, lawmakers in Juneau braced for the possibility of a coin toss deciding control of the state’s House of Representatives. Then a mysterious extra ballot emerged that threw the process into further disarray.

Amid several counts, the latest coming on Friday afternoon, a single ballot drew scrutiny across the state.

The state’s review board certified the race, between Kathryn Dodge, a Democrat, and Bart LeBon, a Republican, as a tie earlier this week, with exactly 2,661 votes going to each candidate. The extra ballot, for Ms. Dodge, could have settled the race for the Fairbanks-area district seat.

Later on Friday, the mystery appeared to have been solved — but the standoff over who won the election continued.

Samantha Miller, a spokeswoman for the state elections office, said that workers at Fairbanks’s No. 6 precinct told officials that a woman had come into the polling place to request a special needs ballot on behalf of her husband, who was outside in a vehicle.

The woman came back into the precinct. Her husband had made a mistake, she told the precinct worker, and needed a new ballot. She left behind the one he had already marked, thus making it a spoiled ballot.

The precinct chair told the worker who took the spoiled ballot to put it into a secrecy sleeve, “and that they would deal with it later in the day,” Ms. Miller said.

But instead, the spoiled ballot was put into a compartment with other questioned ballots.

Typically, Ms. Miller said, spoiled ballots are destroyed once they are accounted for. So, because the mystery ballot was found to be spoiled, it will not be counted, she said.

Still, that left the question of what happens if the recount that began on Friday afternoon ends in a tie — again.

Ms. Miller said that both candidates had five days to file a legal challenge to the results. And if the court decided the recount went as it should have, and the race was still a tie?

The prevailing candidate would be determined “by lot,” Ms. Miller said. “It could be a coin toss or some other way of deciding, as long as it’s random.”

It would not be the first time an Alaska race was determined by coin toss.

In 2006, State Representative Bryce Edgmon[1], a Democrat from Dillingham, beat the incumbent, Carl Moses. Mr. Moses’s name was drawn, so he got to make the call: Heads.

The state’s elections director at the time flipped an Alaska Mint medallion — the side with a walrus being heads and the side with the state seal being tails. It landed state seal side up.

Ms. Miller would not speculate about when the recount would be complete, but said both candidates were present, along with observers and officials.

Mr. LeBon did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Sara Harriger, a spokeswoman for Ms. Dodge, said in a statement that during Friday’s recount, one additional vote was found for Ms. Dodge and a challenged ballot was allowed for her opponent, Mr. LeBon, which meant that the tally stood at 2,662 apiece. Still tied.

Ms. Dodge said in a statement that she believed every legally cast ballot should be counted. “I just want everyone watching this process to take away a sense of confidence in our democratic system and a commitment to cast their votes in future races,” she said, “and knowing that their votes will matter.”

Ms. Dodge had said earlier on Friday that legal action “unfortunately” seemed probable.

“It’s certainly not what any of us expect when we set out to campaign, to find ourselves in a squeaker of this nature,” she said. “I hope we don’t have a coin toss. I don’t know quite what to say, but it doesn’t feel like it’s an appropriate way to settle an election.”

In Alaska, the repercussions of this race will be felt into the next legislative session, though party control of the House in Juneau will be far from clear-cut.

Political coalitions in Juneau do not always come down to party-line votes like in other state houses. Even if Ms. Dodge wins the race, Democrats would still not have an outright majority, and so members of the House will still be tasked with negotiating a coalition majority.

References

  1. ^ Bryce Edgmon (akleg.gov)

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3 Killed After Pickup Truck Fleeing Border Patrol Hits Tire Spikes and Crashes

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Three people in a packed pickup truck were killed on Thursday afternoon after the driver ran over tire spikes and crashed on a Southern California highway while trying to flee Border Patrol officers, the authorities said.

The officers turned on their vehicle’s emergency lights and began chasing the pickup truck on Interstate 8, near Boulevard, Calif., at around 4:20 p.m., according to the United States Customs and Border Protection. The authorities said they believed that the pickup truck had been illegally driven over the southern border and had crashed through an “iron bar vehicle barrier.” They said they identified it by matching a piece that was missing from the truck to one agents had spotted on the ground near the border, though they did not elaborate.

The pickup truck reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour, weaving between cars and bypassing others on the side of the highway, before it drove over spikes that the Border Patrol had placed on the road, the California Highway Patrol said. About a mile later, the truck spun out of control and flipped over, ejecting the nine people who were riding in the truck’s bed, the authorities said.

A woman inside the truck, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was killed, as were two people riding in the bed, the police said. Seven people who had “multiple serious injuries” were taken to the hospital, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said.

The driver, a United States citizen whose name was not released, was the only person wearing a seatbelt, the agency said. The California Highway Patrol took the man into custody, but it was not clear whether he had been charged. The identities of the passengers in the truck have not been released either.

“The investigation into the smuggling incident is ongoing,” the spokesman said in an email, “and the Border Patrol is fully cooperating with the CHP in their investigation of the collision.”

About an hour after the crash, the Border Patrol stopped another vehicle that officers believed had crossed over the border with the pickup truck, the agency said. The driver of that car was also arrested.

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