By Justin Sink - 01/22/15 01:19 PM EST
The White House plans to "work hard" to secure the Democratic votes needed to pass legislation granting President Obama new fast-track authority to help negotiate a pair of trade deals, chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis McDonoughBenghazi Report and Hillary: What it means for Philadelphia White House bans Cabinet members from speaking at convention Overnight Defense: Benghazi report fallout | Nearly 50 dead after Istanbul attack MORE said Thursday.
McDonough said Obama was "really hard" in his State of the Union speech "in terms of the importance of this," and is convinced that the legislation is necessary to protect the nation's economic and security interests.
Many congressional Democrats have voiced opposition to the legislation, which would limit Congress to a simple yes-or-no vote on a final deal. That would give Obama greater leverage in the negotiations, where partner countries have expressed concern that Congress could try to alter a deal after terms have been settled.
Those Democrats say the free trade pacts would hurt American workers by drawing them into competition with low-wage foreign workers, and labor union leaders have lobbied aggressively against the bill.
Asked what priorities, in addition to the trade authority, the White House felt most confident about passing through the Republican-controlled Congress, McDonough said he thought the president's new cybersecurity proposals could fare well.
"I was really happy to see Leader McConnell stand up during the president's mention of cybersecurity" in the State of the Union, McDonough said.
The president's top aide declined to handicap the odds of a corporate tax reform deal, which he sees as "a way to unlock an agreement on infrastructure that is so badly needed."
"I think it should be done, and I think it could be done," McDonough said.
And McDonough expressed concern over lawmakers' efforts to secure funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out next month. Republicans are attempting to attach language that would roll back the president's executive actions offering deferred deportation and work permits to illegal immigrants, but the White House has threatened to veto any such measure.
McDonough said he could not see how they were going to resolve the funding issue.
At the same time, the chief of staff said he planned to make more time over the final two years of the Obama presidency to travel to Capitol Hill to meet with congressional Republicans to find common ground.
"Turning up there is the secret, I think," he said.