White House criticizes McConnell for TPP stance
© Getty Images

The White House on Friday criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellCruz: Tax reform chances ‘drop significantly’ if healthcare fails Parliamentarian deals setback to GOP repeal bill OPINION | How Democrats stole the nation's lower federal courts MORE (R-Ky.) for declaring that President Obama shouldn’t send his signature Pacific Rim trade deal to Congress until after the 2016 elections. 

“Our view is that it is possible for Congress to carefully consider the details of this agreement and to review all the benefits associated with this agreement ... without kicking the vote all the way to the lame-duck period,” press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “There is no reason we have to wait that long.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Under the terms of fast-track trade legislation, the earliest Obama could sign the agreement and send it to Congress is Feb. 4. 

McConnell, who has expressed concerns about the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), said Thursday that Obama is risking defeat of the deal if he tries to push for passage before next year’s lame-duck session, the time between the general elections and when the new Congress convenes.

“It certainly shouldn’t come before the election," McConnell said during an interview with The Washington Post.

The Senate leader indicated the controversial agreement does not have the votes to pass Congress. 

“I think the president would be making a big mistake to try to have that voted on during the election,” he added. “There’s significant pushback all over the place.”

Earnest would not say when the president plans to sign the agreement, but he did say McConnell’s comments would not be a factor in the president’s decision. 

The TPP is arguably the biggest remaining item left on Obama's to-do list and McConnell’s rejection of the deal could imperil the president's ability to secure a vote before he leaves office in January 2017.

The passage of fast-track legislation this summer raised hopes that the TPP could face an easier road to passage. It ensured that the deal could pass Congress with a simple majority, removing the threat of a filibuster in the Senate. 

But the White House has encountered difficulty building support for the agreement.

Many Democrats and labor unions have said the agreement does not go far enough to enforce environmental provisions and workers' rights. And several leading Republicans have balked over provisions governing tobacco and pharmaceuticals. 

McConnell has in the past expressed support for free trade, but he warned the White House during negotiations not to target tobacco growers in a final deal. 

The TPP includes a provision that gives countries more power to regulate manufactured tobacco products, such as cigarettes, as part of their efforts to protect public health. 

The White House has argued that the tobacco provisions are narrowly focused on health issues and would not affect tobacco sales.

Vicki Needham contributed.