A small group of House Democrats who back President Barack Obama’s effort to win “fast-track” trade legislation said Thursday they expect more party members to step forward in favor of the bill, but indicated Republicans would still have to provide the bulk of the votes to win its approval.
“I think members realize it’s coming closer [to the time] to ultimately to make a decision, and that’s what they’re trying to do,” Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, told reporters after more than a 90-minute meeting with Obama. “I think to the credit of the majority of the New Dems in the coalition, they’ve kept their powder dry to give the administration and the president the chance to make the case.”
Obama invited all 46 members of the moderate, business-friendly group to the White House to urge their support for the bill, which many Democrats have already made up their mind to oppose. About 27 piled into a bus for the trip, including some who have already endorsed the bill and many others who are undecided.
Just 13 House Democrats — most of them from the New Democrat Coalition — are on record in support of the legislation, which would allow Obama to submit trade deals like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership pact to Congress for straight up-or-down votes without any amendments.
The dearth of Democratic support is putting pressure on Republicans to provide the bulk of the votes needed to hand Obama a major legislative victory. Obama’s invitation comes after repeated GOP criticisms of the president’s efforts to push his trade agenda.
“The president needs to step up his game in terms of garnering more support amongst Democrats, especially here in the House,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters amid concerns of a possibly large bloc of Republicans voting against giving Obama the authority.
But given the number of Democrats who have decided to oppose the bill because of their concerns about the Asia-Pacific trade deal, there is a limit to how many votes Obama could round up at this point.
“Personally, I think it’s in the 50-to-60 range max, given who has already pledged their vote,” said Gerry Connolly of Virginia, the New Democrats’ vice chairman.
The six-year bill is a hard sell to many Democrats, especially in the industrial Midwest, where the North American Free Trade Agreement is often blamed for millions of lost manufacturing jobs.
“There’s no denying the historic, reflexive opposition that many Democrats have as soon as anyone utters the word ‘trade,’” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “The president is sympathetic to that.”