Mike Pence

MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DISPATCH Vice President Mike Pence after speaking about the USMCA as part of an America First Policies series at Patriot Industries in Louisa on Saturday

Vice President Mike Pence traveled to rural Louisa County to “turn up the heat” on Democrats and urge approval of President Donald Trump’s signed trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

About 500 people gathered at Patriot Industries, a steel and aluminum manufacturer, on Saturday to hear Pence, former Virginia Gov. George Allen and U.S. Reps. Denver Riggleman, R-5th, and Rob Wittman, R-1st, discuss the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

The gathering was hosted by America First Policies, a nonprofit formed to support Trump’s policy agenda.

Following the event, Pence held one-on-one interviews with “selective media,” according to a staff member. The Daily Progress was not allowed to ask questions or observe the interviews, which took place outside the building.

Pence told those gathered that he was in Virginia to “turn up the heat” on Democrats in Congress, specifically naming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the state’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner and U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th. Pelosi’s name drew boos from the crowd.

“We’ve got to get Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats off the dime and stop doing nothing and pass the USMCA, and pass the USMCA this year,” he said.

The agreement, signed on Nov. 30, 2018, would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was passed in 1994. The USMCA requires congressional approval, but has not yet come to a vote.

“We’re too worried about political issues like impeachment and we’re too worried about political theater rather than doing the right thing for the economy,” Riggleman said.

Pence did not specifically refer to impeachment inquiries against Trump, which moved forward this week as the House set rules for the proceedings, saying only that Democrats are spending time doing “other things.”

“The time has come for Democrats in Congress to put Virginia jobs and Virginia workers first,” he said. “The time has come for your congressman and every Democrat from Virginia to put politics aside and pass the USMCA.”

At a Senate Finance Committee meeting in July about the agreement, Warner said that “this administration doesn’t seem to have a really coherent policy when it comes to trade.”

“Does anyone believe that the highly contentious and adversarial process that the president took with Mexico and Canada actually strengthened our relationship?” he said.

Kaine has said he wants to ensure labor protections are strong before fully supporting the agreement.

“As long as I feel like the enforcement provisions are even-steven, then I want to be a supporter of this,” Kaine wrote Saturday in an emailed statement.

Spanberger released a statement ahead of Pence’s visit, saying she’s “continued to push for a vote on the USMCA this year” and that Central Virginia businesses “would benefit from a strengthened trade agreement.”

“I’ve heard directly from our district’s business owners and farmers about the need for movement on this agreement,” she said. “As negotiations between the administration and the House continue, I remain hopeful that we can achieve tangible progress, address existing enforcement issues, and move this long-awaited agreement across the finish line.”

Replacing NAFTA was one of Trump’s campaign goals and Republicans said the new deal will enhance opportunities for American businesses.

“This levels the playing field,” Wittman said.

The congressmen and former governor focused on wage disparities between the U.S. and Mexico and said the deal would provide guarantees so that trade partners don’t have an advantage.

Allen said the agreement is a first step for a framework to guide U.S. trade policies throughout the world.

“It sets a template for dealing with China,” he said. “We need to be all united here in North America.”

Pence spent more than half of his speech highlighting Trump’s policies and emphasizing low unemployment rates, small businesses and an increase in jobs.

Prior to the event, about 20 protesters gathered at the property, which is roughly 10 miles outside the town of Louisa.

The Human Rights Campaign, a LGBTQ advocacy group, condemned Pence’s trip and Republicans who supported it.

“Throughout the closing weeks of this campaign, anti-equality candidates have ramped up their attacks on our allies using extremist, despicable language,” HRC Campaigns Director Geoff Wetrosky wrote in a news release. “Next week, Virginia voters will have the opportunity to choose equality and reject the anti-LGBTQ extremism of Pence and the candidates he supports.”

Many of the faithful at the event were decked out in “Make America Great Again” hats, and a few were dressed in colonial garb.

As they waited for the event to start, they chatted among aluminum pipes in the storage building and were serenaded by songs that included hits from The Rolling Stones, Elton John and Frank Sinatra.

Tom Click, president and CEO of Patriot Industries, touted the Trump administration’s tax cuts and trade policies for enhancing his business.

“Did you ever throw a party and have everybody show up?” he told the crowd. “That’s what this feels like.”

After the Louisa visit, Pence traveled to Virginia Beach for a rally to support local Republican candidates.

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City hall reporter

Nolan Stout is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274, nstout@dailyprogress.com, or @nstoutDP on Twitter and Facebook.

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