WH takes on Reid over trade

Greg Nash

The White House is criticizing Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidCruz: Precedent exists for keeping Supreme Court short-staffed Warren’s power on the rise Republicans make M investment in Senate races MORE for his promise to block a vote on fast-track trade authority for President Obama.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Senate should be able to move on fast-track quickly, taking issue with the Nevada senator's call for the chamber to take up other issues first.

“We are setting the bar awfully low if the Senate cannot handle multiple issues at once,” Earnest said.

“We should be able to expect the United States Senate to do more than one thing over the next month.”

Reid has long opposed fast-track, which would prevent Congress from amending trade deals negotiated by the Obama administration and make those agreements much easier to complete.

He said Tuesday that he would work with other Democrats to prevent a vote on the measure and called on the Senate to first take up legislation on highway funding and the National Security Agency (NSA).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellFive takeaways from Florida Senate debate Liberal groups call for delaying cures bill to next year Conservative groups urge against extending energy tax breaks MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that his plan is to address fast-track after the Senate completes work on the GOP budget and an Iran bill.

Reid’s office questioned whether McConnell can complete work on the highway and NSA bills if he also insists on taking up the trade legislation. Reid staffers noted that fast-track is expected to move with several other pieces of trade legislation, including bills to lower tariffs on imports from countries in sub-Saharan Africa and a bill to give assistance to workers who lose their jobs because of trade.

Earnest said the fast-track measure backed by Obama contains robust worker protections, something he suggested should win over Democrats.

The president has “scratched and clawed to protect the interests of middle-class families all across the country,” Earnest said. 

He also called Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) “desperate” for suggesting that Obama should enlist Hillary Clinton to get Democrats on board with his trade agenda. 

“In the mind of the president, it’s the responsibility the Speaker of the House to do his job and pull together the votes he needs to advance his agenda,” Earnest told reporters.

“This White House has failed to convince a single Democrat leader in Congress to stand with the president on trade,” Boehner spokesman Cory Fritz said. “If Hillary Clinton can do a better job of helping get Democrats to join with Republicans to pass pro-growth trade agreements, the president ought to get her on the phone right now.”