Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne faced constituents in one of the reddest parts of her district Saturday afternoon, just two days after the U.S. House passed the new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada and three days after the impeachment vote.
“I would like to make one thing perfectly clear,” Axne told the group of 50 gathered in the Guthrie Center Farm Bureau. “The House only had the [USMCA] document to work from starting in July. This business that the House sat on it for a year is not true. That’s not true.”
Most of the crowd seemed friendly, yet some of the questions submitted to Axne were pointed. The first question one of Axne’s staffers read from a piece of paper submitted by an audience member questioned why it took so long to get the USMCA passed.
Axne admitted the process took “a little longer than I would have wanted it to,” but said the bill that left the House impressed President Donald Trump, farmers and the AFL-CIO.
“We took the time to put together what is considered now a shining example of what a good trade agreement should look like,” Axne said. “When the head of the AFL-CIO, the President and agriculture can all agree on something, I mean we’ve really got a good package there.”
The congresswoman emphasized she didn’t believe the bill would have passed without the AFL-CIO’s support.
And now, she said, the bill sets standard requirements with the country’s trading partners that allow the U.S. to be on a more level playing field.
“We didn’t have a lot of good labor provisions in there,” Axne said about NAFTA. “So we outsourced jobs to Mexico, which brought down our economy.”
She also said it took some time to figure out the biologics and pharmaceuticals piece of the agreement because the original bill would have allowed drug companies that produce Insulin and Humira to hold onto patents and not allow generics to come onto the market.
Without competition, Axne argued, prices of the life-saving drugs would have skyrocketed.
Axne recently fought for the passage of H.R. 3, which blocks drug companies from holding onto patents.
The original USMCA agreement, Axne said, “would have strapped us from being able to do what we wrote in H.R. 3 and it could have really impacted people.”
Overall, Axne said hammering out those details of the agreement was important because last time “we outsourced jobs. We had to cut production here.”
“It forced our prices down when they were able to produce products for less than us in Mexico and we’ve — as much as I wanted to get this done quickly for agriculture — we’ve got small manufacturing here,” Axne said. “It’s a big part of our economy, a big service sector, so there are many things that rely on good trade, and for the U.S. to be able to be competitive from a wage perspective and a product pricing perspective.”
Now that the USMCA has passed the House, Axne urged the crowd in Guthrie Center to call their senators and encourage them to push Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell into calling for a vote and passing the agreement before the new year.
Axne, who rarely appears in the national media, spoke to Politico about why she wants the agreement to pass before 2020.
“Listen, I didn’t go into this job so I could be a national media darling,” Axne said in an interview with Starting Line following her event in Guthrie Center. “I got into this job to make life better for people here in our district, and that’s what I will continue to do.”
She said reporters chased her down in the halls before the House voted to impeach President Donald Trump earlier this week, but she turned them away.
“Early on in the year, for so many national folks it was all about ‘The Squad’ and everything they were doing,” Axne said. “Now when it’s like ‘oh my goodness, moderates are in tough districts and they voted for impeachment,’ they want a piece of your time.”
“And I literally turned to them and said, ‘where were you when the big disaster was in my district and the floods? None of you came to report on that. I sure could have used your help. It’s still going on,'” Axne said. “If you’d like to report on it, you can follow me now.”
Axne certainly has a strong alliance when it comes to getting things for the people in her district done over the next year. She has been working with Iowa Reps. Abby Finkenauer and Dave Loebsack on a number of bills.
She said continuing that Iowa united front is “huge.”
“From the beginning, we had a conversation to make sure that Iowans were covered in all directions, starting with what committees Abby and I should even try to get on, considering Dave’s on the Energy and Commerce Committee,” Axne said.
The group decided the transportation and infrastructure, education and labor, agriculture and financial services and insurance committees were the committees Iowans most needed a voice on, so those are the roles they took on.
“That’s how we’re looking at this job. We asked how do we get on the committees that best serve this state? And then we split it up and said this is the best way,” Axne said. “We continue to do that because we have more power when we work together to get what Iowans need.”
by Paige Godden