New Democrats want assurances on party support on trade

A group of House Democrats who stand ready to support President Obama’s trade agenda are asking Senate Democrats and the White House to take the lead on a historically difficult issue for their party.

The 46-member New Democrat Coalition is likely key to the Obama administration’s efforts to round up enough votes so Congress can pass a trade promotion authority bill.

So they want “reassurances that they do not stand alone” on the prickly issue that is pitting some liberal Democrats against Obama, a House Democratic aide told The Hill.

To that end, New Democrats want the Senate to be the first to consider a trade promotion authority bill, also known as fast-track, which would give Congress up-or-down votes on any trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that reach Capitol Hill.

A vote in support is much easier when their senators also are backing trade, the aide said.

That political cover could come, for a start, from Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee where Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchTax reform: Starting place for jobs, growth Overnight Finance: Senate Dems dig in as shutdown looms | Trump taps fast-food exec for Labor chief | Portland's new CEO tax Mnuchin, Price meet with GOP senators MORE (R-Utah) is eager to push a bill through his committee by the end of February.

For his part, U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael FromanBrady urges Trump to complete environmental goods deal White House gives up on passing the TPP Froman: Congress can pass the Pacific Rim trade deal MORE reiterated during hearings Tuesday on Capitol Hill the Obama administration’s commitment to convincing Democrats to back fast-track and the trade deals.

He referred to the “whole-government approach” of building support, which includes a full-court press from the president’s Cabinet.

In fact, the Obama administration’s two-year long campaign to get trade-friendly Democrats on board is working, a House Democratic aide said.

Rep. Ron KindRon KindJunior Dems plot strategy as leadership vote looms Ryan: Pacific deal can't be fixed in time for lame-duck vote House Democrat expects support to grow for Pacific trade deal MORE of Wisconsin, chairman of the New Democrats, has been outspoken in advocating for a new way to negotiate trade agreements while urging other members of his party to look hard at a world without the United States leading on trade.

"I also think we need a proactive, aggressive trade agenda that’s going to work for American workers and our businesses," Kind said Wednesday on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal.

Kind's group is making its case to their own party on two points — the trade deals will raise global labor and environmental standards — a major issue for them — and those who might oppose the deals are settling for a status quo that’s worse for American workers, an aide said.

"That’s why the administration is trying to get core labor and environmental standards in the body of the agreement, so that we can push standards up from where they are, rather than trying to compete with China in a race to the bottom,” Kind said.

At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Tuesday with Froman, Kind said it doesn’t make sense for lawmakers to wholly oppose the trade deals before seeing them.

So he is urging the most vocal fast-track opponents such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) to be “engaged in trade negotiations."

“It’s up to each Member of Congress to be personally engaged in that effort."

Kind also pushed back ask the assertion made by many opposed Democrats that Froman and his team aren’t providing enough information on the trade deals.

“The USTR team that’s negotiating these agreements are on Capitol Hill all the time,” Kind said on C-SPAN.

"They walk through text, and they show Members different chapters of what’s being discussed so that Congress can guide them on what the negotiating objectives need to be,” he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told The Hill in a recent interview that while her members have many concerns on trade she won't decide whether she will support fast-track until she has seen what's included in the TPP.

Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans have expressed support for fast-track and moving forward with trade agreements like the TPP.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said “I think getting the trade promotion authority for the president that he's asked for is certainly likely,” on Fox News's “Special Report with Bret Baier” on Wednesday night.

But Democrats have been more cautious, with many opposing the ambitious trade agenda over concerns that the deals will ship U.S. jobs overseas and damage the economy.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Tuesday that the administration "is making an effort, in my view, to work with members on both sides of the aisle to make sure that this process is transparent.

Still, he wants to allay Democratic concerns before lending support.

"Steps are being taken to raise that confidence, and if that occurs I think that it's possible for a significant number of members to support both TPA and TPP. But I think those concerns need to be met."

Mike Lillis contributed.