The New Democrat Coalition is taking a no-holds-barred approach to drumming up support within the splintered party for legislation that would speed trade deals through Congress.
Several lawmakers in the centrist, 46-member group are actively campaigning for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as fast-track, which would give Congress an up-or-down vote on any trade deals that reach Capitol Hill in the coming months, but no ability to make changes.
They argue that without fast-track authority and agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the United States will cede its power to other nations, including China.
A majority of the group’s members are expected to attend a meeting on Thursday at the White House ahead of what could be several more weeks of lobbying for trade support.
“The time has definitely come to roll up our sleeves and start counting noses, and the strategy is to get as many noses into the tent as possible,” Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollyLawmakers join women's marches in DC and nationwide GOP, Dems hear different things from Trump Decaying DC bridge puts spotlight on Trump plan MORE (Va.) said on a call with reporters on Wednesday.
“The time for more information, the time for persuasion, is probably coming fast to an end,” he said.
“It’s not that you ever stop trying, but the primary focus now is strategizing to get a victory and bring TPA over the finish line.”
Liberal House Democrats have largely exited the president’s orb on trade, arguing that this iteration of trade policy is no different from deals of the past that caused job losses and wage stagnation.
Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York said the biggest question in the contentious debate is “who’s going to write the rules?”
He said he is stressing to members that “they have to do this and control their own destiny.”
So far, the lobbying is churning up much-needed Democratic votes, he said.
Whether the efforts provide the Democratic votes needed — probably between 20 and 30 — remains to be seen.
Recently, 11 members of the coalition signaled that they would back the agenda.
Trade has created deep fissures among Democrats and put the president in the same camp as congressional Republicans to push through his ambitious trade agenda.
Connolly acknowledged that trade is a hard vote for Democrats and there is a finite universe of lawmakers in their party who would throw support behind the agenda.
“We have to maximize every Democratic vote,” he said.
House and Senate committees each approved a bipartisan fast-track bill last week, but the battle for votes is expected to escalate over the next couple of weeks as the measures move to the floors.
Fast-track doesn’t allow lawmakers to make any changes to a deal agreed on by the 12 nations that are at the heart of the talks.
Expectations are that a TPP deal could get wrapped up next month.
"TPA puts us front and center," Connolly said, arguing against critics who have slammed the deal as secretive and bad for American workers.
"This looks nothing like how some people have characterized it and on second reading I think a lot of lawmakers will agree."