House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has joined a growing list of lawmakers that have expressed concern over the United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s (USTR) inclusion of language protecting big tech companies’ content moderation legal immunity in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
House Speaker Pelosi recently met with United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer to discuss the final hurdles surrounding the passage of the USMCA.
In her conversations with USTR Lighthizer, she criticized the USMCA’s inclusion of language that is even broader than Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
A source familiar with the meeting told Breitbart News, “Speaker Pelosi has expressed her concerns with the 230 language in USMCA and has raised those concerns with Lighthizer directly.”
“There are concerns in the House about enshrining the increasingly controversial…liability shield in our trade agreements, particularly at a time when Congress is considering whether changes need to be made in U.S. law,” a spokesman for Speaker Pelosi told the Wall Street Journal.
Breitbart News’s Allum Bokhari has detailed that Article 19.17 in the USMCA grants social media companies even broader legal immunity to moderate, or in conservatives’ view, censor free speech on the Internet.
Pelosi has joined a rising tide of Republicans and Democrats that have criticized Article 19.17’s inclusion in the USMCA.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and other House conservatives such as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) have voiced concerns since this May regarding the USMCA’s inclusion of Article 19.17.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and ranking member Greg Walden (R-OR) told Lighthizer in August that they found it “inappropriate” to include language that alters big tech companies’ legal immunity in the USMCA while “such serious policy discussions are ongoing.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a staunch critic of big tech, sent a letter Lighthizer in November, urging him to remove Article 19.17 from the USMCA as well as similar language in the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement.
Sen. Cruz told Breitbart News in an exclusive comment that America should not grant big tech companies “near-blanket immunity” in our trade deals and urged Lighthizer to use his authority to address these “bipartisan concerns. He said:
This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue, it’s a free speech issue. I’m ready to work with anyone who believes we need to hold our Big Tech companies accountable, not guarantee them near-blanket immunity in our trade deals, and I hope Ambassador Lighthizer uses his authority to address these bipartisan concerns.
Opposition to Article 19.17 in the USMCA has even spread to rank-and-file Democrats, as well as labor unions.
Unite Here, a union that represents 300,000 members in the hotel, warehouse, and other service industries, urged Pelosi to ensure that the final draft of the USMCA does not include Article 19.17.
“Our union will strongly oppose [USMCA] passage” if Article 19.17 is included in the USMCA, Unite Hire wrote to Pelosi.
Unite Hire said that the “cynical inclusion” of Article 19.17 is “wrong-headed and must be removed from the USMCA text.”
Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) said during a hearing with Lighthizer in June that she had “significant concerns” regarding the USTR’s of Article 19.17 in the USMCA.
Sanchez noted, “For over two decades, there was no effort to get CDA 230 into U.S. trade agreements, and I’d like to know why USTR has made this shift.”
Lighthizer said in response to Sanchez that the USMCA will “reflect what is in the laws of the United States.”
“This is thought to be a way that small Internet companies can grow and use their advantages,” he added.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said during a hearing in October that “there is no place” to include language granting big tech companies legal immunity in the USMCA or the U.S.-Japan trade agreement.
Rep. Schakowsky described the inclusion of Article 19.17 as a “gift to big tech.”
“It is a uniquely American law, and we’re in the midst of a discussion about it, and this is a gift to big tech to insert it into trade agreements,” she charged.
The Illinois Democrat said:
I think that laws in these other countries don’t really accommodate what the United States has done about 230…it is just inappropriate right now to insert this liability protection into trade agreements, and as a member of the working group that is helping to negotiate that agreement, I am pushing hard to make sure that it just isn’t there.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Pallone said during the same hearing that he was “disappointed” that Lighthizer refused to participate in the hearing:
Ranking Member Walden and I wrote to the Ambassador in August raising concerns about why the USTR has included this language in trade deals as we debate them across the nation, and I was hoping to hear his perspective on why he believes that is appropriate.
Including provisions in trade agreements that are controversial to both Republicans and Democrats is not the way to get support from Congress. Hopefully, Ambassador Lighthizer will be more responsive to bipartisan requests in the future.
House Energy and Commerce ranking member Walden said that Ligthhizer should “consult our committee in advance of negotiating” on telecommunications policy in trade negotiations. He added:
The USTR does not appear to be reflecting the scrutiny the Administration itself is applying to how CDA 230 is being utilized in American society, making it even more alarming for the USTR to be exporting such policies without the involvement of this committee.
USTR Lighthizer’s inclusion of Article 19.17 has engendered strong backlash from Republicans, Democrats, and even labor unions. Lawmakers such as Cruz, Walden, and Pallone have argued that Congress, not the USTR, has the authority to regulate telecommunications policy.
Both chambers of Congress have taken an ever-increasing interest in amending Section 230 to increase the liability for Internet platforms that host sex trafficking or unfairly censor political speech.
However, as Sen. Cruz argued in his letter to USTR Lighthizer, “enshrining” Section 230 in the USMCA could prevent Congress from amending the telecommunications law, or perhaps force the legislative branch to break the USMCA in their efforts to amend Section 230.
Cruz said that “enshrining” big tech’s legal immunity could force lawmakers to “either abandon efforts to hold big tech companies accountable, or revise Section 230 and put the United States in breach.”