Golden State Democrats Play Hard to get on Fast Track.
California would be the third-largest economy in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership pact and one of the biggest potential beneficiaries, but that hasn’t stopped most of the state’s lawmakers from opposing the deal despite President Barack Obama’s efforts to build support in the Golden State.
Two powerful Californians are playing a key role in the fate of “fast-track” legislation to expedite congressional approval of the massive trade agreement: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who supports the bill, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who remains undecided.
But so far, only one of the delegation’s 39 Democrats, Ami Bera, says he plans to vote for the trade promotion authority bill, which would allow Obama to submit the massive Asia-Pacific agreement and other trade pacts to Congress for an up-or-down vote without any amendments.
“A majority of the California delegation will vote against this bill because we’re dedicated to working families,” Rep. Brad Sherman told POLITICO. “If we could disqualify the 49 other states … this thing would be toast.”
Given the huge size of the state’s delegation, which has 53 House members, and the expected tight vote coming as early as this week, the handful of California members who remain on the fence could provide the margin of victory or defeat.
In another troublesome sign for the bill, four of the state’s 14 Republican members — Paul Cook, Dana Rohrabacher, Duncan Hunter and Jeff Denham — wrote to Obama in 2013 warning they would not “agree to cede our constitutional authority [over trade] to the executive through an approval of a request for fast track trade promotion authority.”
Still, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters on Thursday he believed Republicans to be “within striking distance” of enough votes for approval as long as Obama can bring a sufficient number of Democrats along.
The inability of the White House to sell many California representatives on the trade deal isn’t for lack of trying. Last week, Obama sat down for interviews with local broadcasters in San Diego and Sacramento to try to provide political cover for a few undecided representatives.
“If you look at California’s strengths — agriculture,” Obama told Sacramento television station KCRA. “We have the best agriculture in the world, and folks in the Asia-Pacific region are going to be looking for fruits, vegetables, beef, wine, all the things California sells. We have the best and most innovative IT computer services products in the world, and when it comes to innovation, California is our capital. These are going to be big, huge markets in the future.”
Obama also praised Bera, who has stuck by his decision to back the fast-track bill despite fierce criticism from local and national labor groups.
“The truth of the matter is, he’s doing the right thing, what he understands,” Obama said of the Sacramento-area representative. “He’s looked at the facts. Both he and I are progressive Democrats who are in this for one reason and one reason only, and that is to expand opportunity, to strengthen our middle class and to provide ladders of opportunity into the middle class. If this was not good for his district, he would not be voting for it. Just like if it wasn’t good for American workers, I wouldn’t be for it.”
With its 840-mile Pacific coast, California would seem a natural well of support for a bill needed to complete a proposed pact among the United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries. Just this year, the state surpassed Brazil to become the world’s seventh largest economy. It’s also one of the world’s largest exporters, with top destinations for its agriculture, manufacturing and technology products that include Mexico, Canada, China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan — all of which are on the Pacific Rim.
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