WASHINGTON — The White House is telling U.S. media that it's weighing a plan to pull out of NAFTA, upping the pressure on Congress to get cracking on negotiations under the threat of having the seminal trade deal obliterated.
Various media say Trump is considering detonating the trade equivalent of a nuclear option: An executive order to withdraw from the trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, a prospect that would terrify industry and business-friendly lawmakers.
These reports say Trump hasn't decided yet what to do.
Politico reports that he's looking at an executive order drafted by aides Steve Bannon and economic assistant Peter Navarro. CNN says he might simply go ahead with renegotiations, as planned.
It's unclear whether Trump is seriously considering a pullout, or using it as a threat.
The White House has expressed frustration lately at the go-slow attitude of Congress: it has yet to confirm his trade czar or approve a 90-day notice to start NAFTA talks. The administration says it will be hard to get a deal as the Mexican election approaches.
The Mexican government says it can't conclude a NAFTA deal after the first quarter of next year. Trump's point man on the negotiation, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, has acknowledged that it gets harder if talks linger too much into next year.
Mexico has an election in July 2018. Then there's a five-month lame-duck period in Mexico. And in the midst of all that, U.S. lawmakers will be embroiled in their own midterm elections, complicating the task of trade-related tradeoffs.
By law, Congress must be consulted on negotiations, then vote to ratify a deal.
''It's been frustratingly slow,'' Ross said earlier this month, of Congress. ''They’ve been very, very slow on completing the hearings and voting on our new U.S. trade representative Bob Lighthizer. That's been not helpful.''