Murray breaks with Dem leaders on trade

Washington Sen. Patty MurrayPatty MurrayLawmakers pledge push for cures bill in lame-duck Senate Dems: Add Flint aid to spending deal Dems call for better birth control access for female troops MORE is breaking with the rest of the Senate Democratic leadership over trade legislation.

The bill puts Murray in a tough spot because most congressional Democrats oppose it, but trade is vital to her home state’s economic interests.

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Murray supports granting President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. She also favors moving the fast-track measure before the Senate recesses for its Memorial Day break.

But other Democratic leaders oppose fast-track, also called trade promotion authority (TPA), and say it can wait until June, which would give labor unions and other opponents a chance to bash it over the recess.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSenate passes funding bill to avoid shutdown Congress votes to override Obama for first time Cornyn: White House 'MIA' during 9/11 debate MORE (Nev.) has vowed to delay it until Republicans lay out a clear path for passing an extension of the Highway Trust Fund and the National Security Agency’s surveillance authority in the next two weeks. They both expire at the end of this month.

It’s a delicate situation for Murray, given her interest in running for Democratic whip after the 2016 elections and the fact that two-thirds of the Democratic caucus opposes fast-track. 

Nearly 40 percent of Washington state’s jobs are tied to exports, according to local business leaders, and she doesn’t want to play with fire when she’s facing reelection next year.

“I support the bills that came out of the [Finance Committee],” she told The Hill Wednesday.

Murray said trade “is a huge part of our economy.”

She added, “What we grow, what we make in Washington state is sold worldwide and we have to be part of writing the rules of the road. If we leave ourselves out of that, we’ll be dictated to by other countries on how our products are going to be sold and accepted to markets.” 

Eli Zupnick, Murray’s spokesman, said his boss wants to address trade along with the Highway Trust Fund and Patriot Act reauthorization in the next two and a half weeks.

“She’s having conversations with Reid and others on the best path forward to get all of these things done over the next three weeks,” he said.

Murray confirmed to The Hill that she wants to see action on all three legislative priorities before June, though she said “we need to know that we’re going to get FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] and some transportation bill done before we leave in May.”

Reid has downplayed the likelihood of that happening.

“I can’t imagine why the trade bill is so vitally important that it would trump the FISA bill, which is going to expire at the end of the month, or trump the highway bill, which [extends] authorization [that] expires at the end of this month,” he said Tuesday. “I can’t imagine what the rush is.”

Murray and Reid were referring to the National Security Agency’s authority to collect bulk phone data, which is granted by the FISA Amendments Act and the Patriot Act.

A senior Democratic leadership aide said there’s no chance of passing TPA and three accompanying trade bills before Memorial Day.

“The idea that that’s possible is a complete hoax,” the staffer said.

The aide accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of wanting to jump to trade so he can use the looming expirations to “jam” short-term extensions of highway funding and surveillance authority “down everybody’s throats.”

Reid has criticized fast-track in the bluntest terms.

“You couldn’t find a person … who feels more negatively about it than I do,” he told reporters last month. “I have never, ever in my 33 years in Congress ever supported a trade agreement, and I’m not going to start now.”

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said Tuesday there are “major challenges” that give him pause over granting Obama fast-track authority, and noted he voted against a similar bill in 2002.

Murray and Durbin could face each other for the whip post at the end of this Congress.

Durbin said he agrees with Reid that trade legislation should not move until Republicans lay out a clear plan for highway funding and surveillance authority.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, who is a lock to replace Reid as the Senate’s top Democrat in 2017, voted against TPA in the Finance Committee.

Murray downplayed tensions with other Democratic leaders over trade.

“We all accept that we come from different regions and different states,” she said.

Kris Johnson, president and CEO of the Association of Washington Business, said she hails from one of the most trade-dependent states in the country.

“Forty percent of jobs in Washington state are tied to trade in one manner or another,” he said. “I think last year alone we set an all-time high record of just over $100 billion in exports.”

He said Washington exports more per capita than any other state except for Louisiana, adding that the local aerospace, technology and agriculture industries depend on trade.

Microsoft is headquartered in Redmond, Wash., and Boeing employs more than 80,000 people across the state.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D), Murray’s home-state colleague, said she will vote for fast-track if it moves with an extension of the Export-Import Bank and other measures.