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Vice President Mike Pence urges congress to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement during a stop at York plant. William Kalina, 717-505-5449/@BillKalina

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Vice President Mike Pence spent much of his speech Thursday at a Springettsbury Township packing company stumping for President Donald Trump before pivoting to a promotion of the administration's trade policies. 

Pence toured JLS Automation's plant before giving remarks to a crowd of about 100 manufacturing employees, business leaders and a handful of local politicians.

"We didn't need a magic wand (to fix manufacturing); we just needed President Donald Trump in the White House," Pence said. 

Standing in front of graphics advertising the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Pence instead spent roughly 15 minutes stumping for the president before once mentioning Trump's revised version of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Pence, garnering cheers and applause — while a handful of anti-tariff protesters stood on the sidewalks outside the property, touched on the administration's tax reform plan and regulation rollbacks and cited the "booming" economy. 

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But Pence eventually circled back to the trade deal. Pence is leading negotiations with Mexico after Trump threatened to impose new tariffs unless that country cracks down on U.S.-bound on migrants.

"We've got to level the playing field with trade deals that put America first," Pence told the crowd in Springettsbury. "The time has come for Congress of the U.S. to pass the largest trade deal in American history. The time has come for the Congress to pass the USMCA." 

Pence said "progress is being made," but he emphasized Mexico has yet to satisfy the White House's demands. If people pressure politicians who question the deal, "we can get this done by the end of the year," Pence said.

Headway was made in negotiations between the U.S. and Mexico on Thursday, reported The Washington Post. The preliminary plan would substantially increase Mexico's immigration efforts while bolstering the deportation powers of the U.S.

The Post's sources cautioned Trump could still turn it down, but the plan could ease tensions between Trump and Senate Republicans. 

A growing number of Senate Republicans have asserted the tariffs on Mexico could scuttle congressional approval of the USMCA. Unlike the border funding fight earlier this year, the Senate could have a veto-proof majority if a resolution to block the tariff garners a Trump veto. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has blasted Trump's proposed tariffs. 

More: Pence to visit Springettsbury business, pitch trade deal

More: Trump: Progress to stave off Mexico tariffs but ‘not enough’

On Thursday, Rep. Richie Neil, D-Mass., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, threatened just that. Neil pledged to introduce legislation blocking the tariffs if Trump goes through with them. 

But administration officials at Thursday's event in York County pushed back, citing the potential benefits the USMCA could have for manufactures such as JLS.

 "We need USMCA. More can be exported, and that means more jobs for the people of southcentral Pennsylvania," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. "The thing about this trade deal is that it's a more fair deal, it levels the playing field. This is a great deal. We need it."

The intra-party break comes as the administration hits key swing states, including Pennsylvania, that Trump won in 2016 but may be leaning left come 2020. In Pennsylvania, his net approval rating has plummeted 17% since taking office, according to data firm Morning Consult.

But at least one Republican representing York County in Congress continued to support Trump's tariff threats to combat immigration. 

"We need to make sure we secure the border," Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, said. "It is indeed a crisis. I can't blame the president for using every tool he possibly has available to him."

Smucker is confident the Trump administration can reach a deal with Mexico before Monday's deadline, he added.

Local business leaders have condemned the tariffs, emphasizing the impact on U.S. consumers and industries, including manufacturing and agriculture.

But JLS Automation is thriving under Trump's protectionist policies, said CEO Craig Souser.

"We have had plenty of challenges and struggles throughout the years, but today we thrive," Souser said. "To maintain our success, we need to have a dynamic trade policy to address the changes in the market."

Amid talks of the USMCA, Trump continued fanning the flames of a trade war with China as he announced he may levy another $300 billion on Chinese imports by the end of the month.

Last month, Trump levied $200 billion in increased tariffs on Chinese imports, which led China to implement its own $60 billion in tariffs on U.S. products.

Following Pence's visit to Spingettsbury Township, he headed to the sold-out state GOP fundraiser in Camp Hill, which the party touted as the most successful in history.

A portion of the funds raised will go toward supporting the two state legislative campaign committees and the state's Republican congressional delegation, according to a state GOP news release.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.                 

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