The House is currently dozens of votes short of being able to pass legislation that would allow President Barack Obama to send trade deals to Congress for fast approval, according to senior lawmakers and aides in both parties, imperiling a top White House priority for the president’s final years in office.
At this point, upward of 75 House Republicans could vote against trade promotion authority if it comes up for a vote in the coming weeks, according to aides and lawmakers involved in the process. Some of the lawmakers fear job losses in their districts from free trade; others distrust Obama and oppose giving him more power.
House GOP leaders will begin officially canvassing for votes Friday, but they’ve been in private strategy sessions for weeks, learning about the intricacies of the bill from Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
House Democrats, meanwhile, say just 12 to 20 of their lawmakers support Obama’s request. That figure, if it holds, would amount to a stinging rebuke of a president by his own party.
“It’s very low on the Democratic side,” Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said, commenting on the support. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the 12-to-20 figure is “probably pretty accurate” but added the White House is keeping the count. The Senate is generally expected to pass the measure.
The fast-track legislation would allow Obama to submit trade agreements to Congress for straight up-or-down votes without amendments. Critics consider the procedure undemocratic, but proponents say other countries won’t make their best offers in trade talks with the United States if they know Congress could change the terms of the pact.
Obama needs the bill to complete the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership with Japan and 10 other countries. The pact would cover approximately 40 percent of world economic output, making it the biggest free trade agreement to date. Business groups are pushing hard for the trade bill and the Asia-Pacific agreement, but labor and many activist groups strongly oppose both.
House Democrats are urging the White House to step its game up in shoring up support — and the administration appears to be kicking into high gear. Cabinet secretaries are starting to become engaged in lobbying Democrats. More than 30 pro-business lawmakers who are members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition will meet with Obama on Thursday at the White House. The Obama administration is also targeting Congressional Black Caucus members in hopes they will back his push.
Obama met last week with Clyburn, CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, and Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas and Greg Meeks of New York about the trade measure. Clyburn said he’s still undecided.
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