Twenty years ago, when President Bill Clinton was urging Congress to enact sweeping trade legislation over objections of important constituents in his own party, the face of the opposition were the middle-aged (and beyond) white, male leaders of the AFL-CIO. For President Barack Obama, the dynamic may feel the same—trying to find enough Democrats to help Republicans pass a trade deal—but the coalition is a lot broader. In addition to labor, the president is being opposed by teachers, seniors, Internet freedom groups, and Sister Simone Campbell.
Once the Senate approves fast track trade negotiating authority for Obama, which could happen as early as this week, the battle will move to the House, where it expected to unleash a major lobbying battle. On the one side, a president who is more engaged in legislative trench warfare than he has been in a long time over legislation that would give him authority to establish the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “This is personal for him,” Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, a member of the Democratic House leadership, told Bloomberg reporters and editors.
On the other: a coalition of opponents that is far more diverse than the one that tried unsuccessfully to torpedo Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, the first of several trade pacts struck since the 1990s that critics say have cost U.S. jobs and depressed wages.
The newcomers to the fight say they are there because they have seen the results of the earlier trade agreements and now know better. “NAFTA really caught a number of folks off guard,” said Laura Peralta-Schulte, a lobbyist for Sister Simone’s National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. Sister Simone became a national figure in 2012, when her Nuns on the Bus group opposed the House Republican budget.
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