The House on Thursday took the first step toward resuscitating the White House’s trade agenda by passing legislation granting President Obama fast-track authority.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where the White House and GOP leaders are seeking to strike a deal with pro-trade Democrats.
This is the second time in a week the House has voted to approve the controversial fast-track bill. On Friday, the House voted 219-211 in favor of fast-track, which would make it easier for Obama to complete a sweeping trans-Pacific trade deal.
In last week’s vote, the House GOP paired the fast-track bill with a measure known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that gives aid to workers displaced by trade. Both measures needed to be approved in separate votes for the entire package to move forward.
House Democrats have historically favored TAA, but they voted against it on Friday to kill fast-track, which is deeply opposed by unions and other liberal groups.
The White House still wants both measures to reach Obama’s desk, but is now advancing a different strategy that would see the two bills move separately.
The problem lies in the Senate, which previously approved a package that included both bills.
If the two move separately, Republicans and the White House will have to convince Senate Democrats to back fast-track on the promise that TAA will move forward at a later time.
The president spoke with a group of Senate Democrats on Wednesday at the White House, and talks continued in the Senate on Thursday on a way to give the president trade promotion authority, also known as fast-track.
One possible solution would see the Senate vote first to pass a trade preferences bill, this time with the TAA program attached. It would then be sent to the House for a vote before the Senate considers fast-track.
This planned move angered members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who asked Senate leaders not to use the trade measure, which would provide preferential access to the U.S. market for African countries, as a bargaining chip to pass trade promotion authority.
Democrats opposed to the trade package expressed frustration that GOP leaders were bypassing them.
“Instead of cooperation, they’ve opted to use procedural tricks to pass the TPA,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.).
As promised, all 28 pro-trade House Democrats supported the bill again.
Rep. Ron KindRon KindJunior Dems plot strategy as leadership vote looms Ryan: Pacific deal can't be fixed in time for lame-duck vote House Democrat expects support to grow for Pacific trade deal MORE (D-Wis.) said on Wednesday that those who backed the trade agenda are “really committed” to getting fast-track and TAA done.
“The tough vote has already been taken,” Kind said. “We’re on record; we supported TPA last week. We also supported TAA last week, too,” he said.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul RyanRepublicans raise red flags about ObamaCare repeal strategy Overnight Healthcare: GOP in talks about helping insurers after ObamaCare repeal Ryan on Trump: 'We're not looking back' MORE (R-Wis.) warned that repeating last week's debacle would reflect badly on the international stage.
"It gives America credibility," Ryan said of TPA. "And boy, do we need credibility right now."