President Obama is ramping up his sales pitch to congressional Democrats on trade, making a full-throated argument that labor unions and liberals should back “fast-track” legislation seen as crucial to cementing international pacts at the top of his agenda.
Obama, in an interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” took on critics, such as Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPressure grows on Perez to enter DNC race The Hill's 12:30 Report AFL-CIO endorses Ellison for DNC chair MORE (D-Mass.), who have leveled harsh criticism at his proposed trade policies.
“I love Elizabeth. We’re allies on a whole host of issues. But she’s wrong on this,” he said.
Obama challenged the claims of skeptical Democrats that new trade deals would hurt American workers by incentivizing companies to ship jobs overseers.
“This is the most progressive framework for trade we have ever had,” Obama said, saying that the trade promotion bill contains strict labor and environmental protections.
“We’re embodying in this deal all the stuff that the environmental community and the labor community for years has been talking about as a requirement for them approving trade deals,” he said.
Obama dismissed claims from critics that trade deals with Asia and Europe were negotiated in secret, saying administration has conducted 1,700 briefings on Capitol Hill.
“There’s a misnomer about fast track,” he said. “The only thing we’re looking for is the same trade authority, negotiating authority that almost every president in the post-World War II era has had to be able to negotiate ahead of time.”
For Obama, success on the issue means winning over his own party on an issue that is unpopular with the base. His ability to work with Congress has come under criticism during his tenure, and he might need to deepen his personal involvement to pick up a trade victory.
The White House will ultimately have to rely mostly on Republican votes to approve the trade legislation.
But Obama is pursuing a lobbying effort designed to convince enough Democrats to sign on and push a fast-track measure through Congress — something Republican leaders are demanding.
A House aide said that, after seeing the White House whip dozens of Democrats to vote for the so-called “cromnibus” last year, there is an expectation that 30 Democrats could support fast-track or trade promotion authority (TPA), which would limit Congress to an up-or-down vote on trade agreements.
Other trade experts peg the number closer to 20. Eleven members of the centrist New Democrat coalition have already issued a statement suggesting they’ll back the legislation.
In addition to personal appeals, Obama is enlisting Cabinet officials, such as Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Treasury Secretary Jack LewJack LewOvernight Finance: House GOP plans short-term spending bill | Senate Republicans not happy | Yellen intends to finish term Lew: Don't paint Wall Street execs with 'broad brushstroke' Dumping Obama’s faux foreign tax legislation should be high on Trump's to-do list MORE, to make his case on trade.
Still, several top Democrats — including Reps. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, and Chris Van Hollen (Md.), senior Democrat on the Budget Committee — are adamantly opposed to the bill. Liberals are lining up overwhelmingly behind them, and Democratic leaders, while publicly silent on the legislation, have done nothing to tamp down the criticism.
Both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have opposed the last two fast-track bills to reach the floor.
Behind Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner compares Trump to Teddy Roosevelt Boehner: 'Thank God' I wasn't in the middle of election Ryan delays committee assignments until 2017 MORE (R-Ohio), GOP leaders are highlighting the Democratic division in an effort to pressure lawmakers across the aisle by portraying them as a party at odds with their own president.
But that strategy ignores the internal discord among Republicans, who boast the greatest House majority since the Great Depression but are struggling to find 218 votes on an issue they’ve traditionally championed. Their struggles are largely due to the reluctance of many conservatives to empower a president, who they’ve long accused of abusing his executive authority, with broad new powers to negotiate trade deals.
Estimates of GOP defections have ranged from 30 to as high as 60, some trade experts say.
Still, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul RyanOvernight Healthcare: Burwell huddles with Dems on fighting ObamaCare repeal Reid: Bring back the earmarks Ryan: GOP won’t ‘pull the rug out’ from 'Dreamers' MORE (R-Wis.) and trade subcommittee chairman Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), along with other members of the Republican leadership, are continuing to meet with lawmakers to boost the GOP vote, House aides say.
The White House has said fast-track trade authority is crucial in finalizing trade deals with Europe and a dozen countries spanning from Latin American to the Asia-Pacific.
The trade agreements are among Obama’s top remaining priorities of his second term.
The White House is also contending with ramped up efforts by labor unions and liberal groups, which have mobilized against fast-track.
The AFL-CIO continues to stage rallies around the country in their months-long efforts to stop fast-track.
Democratic leaders have been little help to Obama, with Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidFeinstein after dinner with Clinton: She has 'accepted' her loss Clintons remember John Glenn as a 'uniquely American hero' Clinton reappears on Capitol Hill for Reid send-off MORE (D-Nev.) saying Tuesday that he won’t support fast-track.
“I have never ever ... supported a trade agreement, and I’m not going to start now,” he told reporters. “So the answer is not only no, but hell no.”
Reid said he would not actively try to sink the measure, but he urged the Senate Finance Committee, which will take up the measure on Wednesday, to slow down its work.
Scott Wong and Mike Lillis contributed.