When It comes to opposing the free trade pact with Canada and
Mexico, House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., feels so
"very strongly" that he's willing to split the Democratic
leadership, rebel against his party's president and risk questions
about whether he should resign from the No. 2 spot in the House.
But on Monday, he indicated that he was reluctant to
aggressively lobby wavering Democrats to oppose the North American
Free Trade Agreement.
"All I have is one vote, and that's about it," Gephardt said in
an interview. "Everybody's mind is pretty well made up. I don't
think lobbying is going to make a difference."
Asked if he would talk to members to persuade them to vote
against the proposal, Gephardt said: "I don't think so."
The trade agreement is hanging by a thread in the House, where
President Bill Clinton will have to depend on Republicans to pass
it. Gephardt holds the scissors.
He is arguably the Democrats' most powerful figure on trade
issues. He helped to make trade a national political issue by using
it as a cornerstone of his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic
presidential nomination in 1988. His job as House majority leader
gives him the responsibility and the authority to rally Democrats
to Clinton's and the party's programs.
But when the administration recently announced side agreements
with Canada and Mexico on environmental and labor practices,
Gephardt - who had pushed for the extra agreements - served notice
that he will not carry the flag for the trade pact.
"I could not support the agreement as it now stands," Gephardt
said Monday, repeating his criticism of the side agreements as
Gephardt voted in favor of so-called "fast track" negotiating
authority to let the administration of President George Bush open
talks with Mexico for the trade agreement. But for three years now,
he has been the voice of an American coalition of farmers,
organized labor and environmentalists that fears that the trade
agreement will cost jobs and add to pollution.
He campaigned long and loudly for requirements in the pact for
Mexico to tighten its environmental regulations, for it to change
its labor laws granting workers rights to collectively bargain and
to strike, for both nations to fund environmental cleanup on the
border, and for the United States to pay to retrain American
workers who lose their jobs to Mexico's cheaper labor force.
"I feel very strongly about this," Gephardt said. "I don't take
Recapping his campaign, Gephardt said that he had written "six
long letters" to Bush and five to Clinton, had "three- and
five-hour meetings" with U.S. trade negotiators and face-to-face
conversations with Clinton, made seven trips to Mexico to inspect
working and environmental conditions and met twice with Mexican
President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
"I set out in a long series of letters and speeches exactly
what I thought the negotiations had to produce," Gephardt said. …