People walk in front of the U.S. Capitol building Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Pablo Angulo)

WASHINGTON — It has been a week of contrasts in Congress. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump, making him the third President to be impeached in history. Less than 24 hours later, a nearly united House passed a sweeping trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

Oklahoma’s GOP delegation opposed the two articles of impeachment, while Democrat Kendra Horn (D-OK5) voted in favor. But the delegation was united in supporting the USMCA trade agreement.

How the impeachment trial will play out remains to be decided. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA12), in a bid designed to force Senate leaders to decide how their Trump trial will be conducted, did not forward the articles of impeachment to the Senate after Wednesday’s vote.

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

Because Congress has already recessed for the holidays and the New Year, this spat will likely continue at least until January. The next time Congress will come back into session is Jan. 7.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said he wants to know how long the Senate would spend on a trial.

“I’d like more certainty,” said Inhofe. “We all have daytime jobs. We’re supposed to be doing things. We have commitments that we’ve made.”

Inhofe also said he’s afraid he won’t get the opportunity to express himself on every issue brought forward.

“You sit there, you can’t say anything. You sit there and you think, ‘I want to answer that,’ but if they don’t ask you this specifically, you can’t answer it,” said Inhofe.

One thing Inhofe isn’t worried about? The president’s re-election effort. Inhofe mentioned that since impeachment proceedings began, Trump’s numbers are higher than ever.

Indeed, the president’s poll numbers have been inching upward since around the beginning of the month, according to FiveThirtyEight. However, his numbers are almost identical to when impeachment was first announced.

In September, Trump’s approval rating sat at 43.1 percent. Now, he stands at 43.4 percent.

Oklahoma delegates celebrate passing USMCA trade deal

The House also passed the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) this week after months of the Oklahoma delegation standing united on its benefits. The Oklahomans announced their support of the bill in the first week of December.

“While it is long overdue, I am proud that the House finally advanced the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, which was skillfully negotiated and secured on America’s behalf by President Donald Trump,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK4). “Considering that the United States trades with Mexico and Canada more than any other country in the world, it is certainly appropriate to strengthen that relationship and right to modernize the outdated terms of trade.”

Canada and Mexico make up just under 30 percent of U.S. foreign trade this year, according to the United States Census Bureau. 

The three-nation deal would replace the North American Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. As part of the USMCA, the U.S. would ensure stronger labor standards for neighbors to the north and south.

“A stronger trading relationship with Mexico and Canada means a stronger economy for Oklahoma,” Horn said. “This agreement ensures a level playing field for Oklahoma businesses and workers, includes critical enforcement provisions, gives Congress tools to combat the high costs of prescription drugs, and improves labor standards.”

In what Cole and others are calling a win for Trump, the USMCA will move away from free-trade policies. It also included passages on e-commerce and digital trade not included by NAFTA, which narrowly passed the House in 1993.

“Today’s vote in the House is a monumental step as America’s farmers, manufacturers and Main Street businesses come one step closer to a 21st-century trade deal,” said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK3). “In 2018, exports from Oklahoma to our North American neighbors totaled more than $2.4 billion. For Oklahoma’s farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers, USMCA will tremendously increase export opportunities while strengthening the thousands of jobs supported by trade.”

Lankford receives new chairmanship

Also this week, U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) was named chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

“It is an honor to be entrusted with the responsibility to fill the role as chairman of the Select Committee on Ethics following Sen. Isakson,” said Lankford.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) will be retiring at the end of the year.

Lankford also announced a new bill that would help protect rural hospitals facing closure. The Rural Hospital Relief Act would update Medicare’s Critical Access Hospital, or CAH, designation so more rural hospitals can qualify for financial benefits. Since 2014, at least six rural Oklahoma hospitals have filed for bankruptcy reorganization, and others closed outright.

“Access to rural health care is vital for many of our Oklahoma communities,” said Lankford. “Giving flexibility to states to help designate certain rural hospitals as necessary providers will provide them with a path forward.”

Also this week, Lankford and Inhofe applauded the Senate’s confirmation of Oklahoma City lawyer Jodi Dishman and Judge Bernard Jones to serve as judges on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.