Facing Dem anger, White House eases restrictions on classified trade files

Facing Dem anger, White House eases restrictions on classified trade files
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The Obama administration on Wednesday said it will provide lawmakers with more access to the text of a massive Asia-Pacific trade deal.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael FromanUS will investigate aluminum imports as national security hazard Overnight Finance: WH floats Mexican import tax | Exporters move to back GOP tax proposal | Dems rip Trump adviser's Goldman Sachs payout Froman heads to Council on Foreign Relations MORE announced the changes in a meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill. He said the new policy makes the full negotiating text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) available to members, allows them to bring a staffer and provides summaries by chapter, an administration official told The Hill.

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"The Obama administration is committed to maximizing the transparency of U.S. trade negotiations consistent with negotiating the best possible agreement for the American people,” Froman said.

"Today, working directly with Congress we have taken unprecedented additional measures to help members fully understand the benefits we are working to bring home for American workers, businesses, farmers and ranchers," he said.

The announcement comes at a crucial stage, with many House Democrats at odds with the White House over President Obama's trade agenda.

Obama administration officials have been in full-court-press mode in trying to convince lawmakers to support a trade promotion authority (TPA) bill, which would allow the trade deals to go through Congress without amendment.

The full text of the TPP was previously available to all lawmakers to review upon request. Now, they will be able to review the text at their convenience, without the presence of administration officials, in the congressional security office.

In addition, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office will provide classified easy-to-read summaries to accompany the legal text aimed at helping lawmakers navigate the current version of the agreement.

The White House has been working with congressional leaders — including members of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees, which handle trade — to figure out the best way to provide more access to the documents.

Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has said that a change in the transparency rules was slated to land in a trade promotion authority (TPA) bill, which is still under construction.

The changes also allow lawmakers to bring a personal staff member, with appropriate security clearance, to review text, instead of only a professional committee staffer.

Complaints about the access to the text and details about TPP's ongoing negotiations have rippled through both parties across the Capitol.

The loudest protests have come from liberal House Democrats who said the rules to view the text were too stringent.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who has lobbied USTR for greater transparency, told The Hill that the changes are a step in the right direction but that he doesn’t “believe even at this point we have full transparency.”

They have argued that the White House didn't want them to know the TPP details because they say any deal is likely to be bad for U.S. workers and their wages.

Froman has told lawmakers in several Capitol Hill hearings that he was willing to review and make changes to the transparency rules so that lawmakers felt comfortable with the details of the TPP talks, which are still in flux.

The text is considered classified because they are working documents of sensitive, ongoing international negotiations that provides the 11 other nations involved in the TPP talks an expectation of confidentiality.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Tuesday that the impatience of some Democrats to have access to the trade deal text is "legitimate" but acknowledged that the administration is making details available.

She also brushed aside other Democratic concerns about classified meetings saying that “we can get over that," saying it is a matter of process.

USTR officials have held nearly 1,700 Congressional briefings on TPP and many others on the deal with the European Union, TPA and the African Growth and Opportunity Act along with other trade initiatives.