Speaker Nancy Pelosi is resisting pressure from the Trump administration to quickly approve an updated North American trade deal and is telling lawmakers and union officials that a planned study of the agreement could drag on well into the fall, people familiar with the situation said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced legislation in parliament on Wednesday to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or U.S.M.C.A., and Vice President Mike Pence plans to be in Ottawa on Thursday.
But Ms. Pelosi’s escalating fight with President Trump, which erupted last week over the issue of impeachment, has soured many Democrats on doing anything that could possibly help the president. The war of words culminated with Mr. Trump calling Ms. Pelosi “Crazy Nancy” and “a mess” for lacking the intellect to comprehend the trade deal.
Ms. Pelosi has said privately that she is convinced the agreement can be approved — “I can get to yes” she told a supportive lawmaker last week — even if that would hand Mr. Trump with a much-needed domestic policy achievement ahead of his re-election campaign. But the president’s slight reinforced Ms. Pelosi’s resolve to extract significant revisions to the accord as a precondition of holding a floor vote, and those changes could require a renegotiation of the updated North American Free Trade Agreement, which the three countries agreed to last year.
Mr. Trump blew up planned talks on a $2 trillion infrastructure deal last week, vowing not to negotiate legislation with Democrats until they stop investigating him. The next day, he demanded passage of the U.S.M.C.A.
Ms. Pelosi’s allies are not inclined to fall in line.
“We are not going to be a cheap date,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, a Pelosi ally who is pushing the administration to reopen negotiations with Mexico to strengthen enforcement of labor provisions.
“Nancy Pelosi is not going to sign an agreement if it is not a good agreement. She is not going to bring it to the floor unless she knows that it is going to make the changes that we need in Nafta, period,” he added, echoing the sentiments of people close to the speaker.
Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee subcommittee on trade, was blunt: “They are delusional if they think we are just going to pass this thing right now.”
During a meeting at the Capitol earlier this month, Ms. Pelosi told Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, that she planned to create four House task forces to examine key components of the agreement, including labor standards, environmental issues, pharmaceutical imports and the creation a verifiable enforcement mechanism to hold Mexico accountable for promised changes to labor laws.
That came as unwelcome news for administration officials who had been hoping to get congressional approval for the deal before Congress takes it long August recess. They removed one important hurdle to the deal’s passage this month, when the United States lifted the tariffs it had levied on steel and aluminum from Canada and Mexico.
But with Ms. Pelosi in no apparent hurry to strike a deal, the window for a summer ratification is closing fast.
Mr. Lighthizer, who has a cordial working relationship with Ms. Pelosi, is growing frustrated with the pace of deliberations. But he has told Mr. Trump that he has no choice but to work with Democrats — and has thus far talked Mr. Trump down from his threat to pull the United States out of Nafta, a risky move which could hurt the economies of all three countries.
Mr. Pence and other Trump advisers, including the vice president’s chief of staff Marc Short, have urged Mr. Trump and Mr. Lighthizer to abandon talks with Democrats. In their view, any failure would be laid at the feet of Ms. Pelosi, who has yet to produce a detailed list of counterproposals.
“She has not been clear about what she wants specifically,” Mr. Short said in a brief telephone interview on Wednesday.
Mr. Pence has been trying to whip up support for the agreement in battleground districts in the Midwest to increase pressure on moderate Democrats and the 40 freshmen members who were elected in 2018, many from districts Mr. Trump won in 2016.
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.
That proved to be the death of President Barack Obama’s Pacific trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It was not brought to a vote before Mr. Obama left the White House, and Mr. Trump officially withdrew from the pact in his first week in office.
“The clock is ticking,” said Mr. Pascrell.