White House dismisses trade backdown

The White House dismissed reports on Friday that it is backing away from completing its ambitious trade agenda.

A senior administration official told reporters that comments made by Vice President Biden at a House Democratic retreat did not signal a shift in President Obama’s desire to eventually complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement with a number of countries in South America and Asia.

The official also said Obama wanted to get a trade promotion authority bill through Congress. That legislation would make it easier for the administration to negotiate trade deals.

“I wouldn't suggest that the vice president was saying we aren't going to pursue this agreement or TPA [trade promotion authority] in conjunction with this agreement,” the official told reporters during a call about the president's upcoming trip to Mexico.

“President Obama is personally committed to achieving this agreement.”

The official said the trade agenda, which includes the 12-nation Asia-Pacific deal as well as a separate agreement in the works with the European Union, are at the heart of the administration’s economic agenda. 

“The case we'll make to anybody is that this is a key part of our economic agenda,” the official said. 

The official said he was “confident” that the issue was a priority for the president.

The New York Times reported on Friday that Biden told House Democrats at their retreat that he realized the trade authority bill was not coming up now. Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle MORE (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have both given reservations about a bill produced by ex-Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusSteady American leadership is key to success with China and Korea Orrin Hatch, ‘a tough old bird,’ got a lot done in the Senate Canada crossing fine line between fair and unfair trade MORE (D-Mont.), who is now Obama’s ambassador to China.

Biden also took a hard line in the meeting with Asian trading partners, saying Japan had been told that the TPP could not go forward if the U.S. auto industry continued to have a 1 percent market penetration in Japan, according to the Times.

Obama has planned a four-country trip to the Pacific Rim for April, and he also will head to Mexico, which is one of the dozen nations signed onto TPP. 

—Justin Sink contributed.