A major trade initiative sought by President Obama was at least temporarily derailed in the Congress on Friday after Democrats rebuffed a personal plea for support by President Obama, but the debate wasn’t a total failure, as his call for “fast-track” negotiating authority was approved in a bipartisan House vote.
“We’re obviously gratified that we were able to advance that,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who repeatedly rejected the idea that the votes were a total loss for the President.
What was defeated was a worker aid measure, to help those hit negatively by free trade agreements, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance.
“The outcome of today’s TAA vote was disappointing,” said House Speaker John Boehner, even as he noted the success of the Trade Promotion Authority bill, which would lay the groundwork for a trade deal involving the U.S. and eleven Pacific Rim nations.
Republicans said they would try again to pass the TAA measure, maybe as early as next week; if that failed, GOP aides expressed confidence that they could approve the “fast-track” bill on its own, and send it back to the Senate.
So, while the votes today were not a total loss or a total victory, the road ahead on trade remained uncertain for both the President and GOP leaders.
House Democrats give Obama the Heisman
The day began with a personal plea for support by the President, who traveled up to Capitol Hill to meet with Democrats in a closed door meeting.
But the immediate reviews from Democratic lawmakers were not good.
Moments after the meeting broke up, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) took the House floor and denounced the whole process, arguing that free trade deals only bring “starvation wages and environmental destruction” for American workers.
One notable part of the debate this week had been the public silence of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi; many thought it might be a prelude to a break with the President – and that’s exactly what happened.
“I will be voting to slow down the fast track,” Pelosi said on the House floor – but while her break with the President may have doomed the TAA bill, it did not block the “fast-track” (TPA) legislation.
In the end, the TPA plan was approved by an eight vote margin.
Whether that plan ever makes it to the President remained unclear as lawmakers left for the airport on Friday.
One thing was for sure – this trade debate is not over, and that was clear in a late afternoon statement from the President.
“I urge the House of Representatives to pass TAA as soon as possible, so I can sign them both, and give our workers and businesses even more wind at their backs to do what they do best: imagine, invent, build, and sell goods Made in America to the rest of the world.”