PHILADELPHIA – President Obama on Thursday asked wary House Democrats to hold their fire, while the administration negotiates several trade deals opposed by scores of liberal lawmakers.
“Keep your powder a little dry,” he told the Democrats assembled here for an annual retreat, according to a source in the closed-door session.
"Get informed," Obama also advised, "not by reading The Huffington Post."
The issue has sharply divided the Democrats, as centrists tend to support the president's strategy, while liberals have pushed back hard, citing concerns over currency manipulation, environmental problems, food safety and worker protection, among other things.
Top House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), have drawn an additional line in the sand, saying they won't support any new trade deal before the administration can demonstrate that the result will be higher wages for American workers.
"The impact on the paychecks of America’s workers is the standard that we will use," Pelosi told reporters Wednesday.
Fielding private questions from the Democrats after a fiery speech before the caucus Thursday, Obama tried to defuse those concerns, saying his administration will make a "substantive case" for the new pacts.
"We share same values and are looking out for the same people," he said, according to the source.
It remains to be seen if that message resonates with the Democratic critics.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said Thursday that the current draft of the Asian pact, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is a nonstarter with liberals.
"As it is right now … it would be unacceptable," Schakowsky told reporters a few hours before Obama's arrival.
"None of us … oppose a trade agreement," she added. "What we want is a good and fair trade agreement. And so if the president is willing to share, and come back to the table, and we can make some changes, I think we would support that."
— This story was updated at 10:48 p.m.