House to vote for a second time on fast-track for Obama

House to vote for a second time on fast-track for Obama
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The House will vote Thursday on a stand-alone measure to grant President Obama fast-track trade authority.

The decision follows a flurry of activity at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, as the White House and congressional Republicans rally around a strategy for moving forward with the trade package.

Under the plan, the House and Senate would vote for a second time on passing fast-track, which would make it easier for Obama to negotiate a sweeping Pacific trade deal.

Separately, Congress would approve legislation granting aid to workers displaced by trade, a program known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).

The problem for Obama and Republicans is that they must first convince Senate Democrats to vote for fast-track on the promise the TAA bill would be finished later.

Obama met at the White House on Wednesday with a group pro-trade Democrats from the House and Senate as he sought to make the case.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Wednesday signaled Obama is open to Congress sending him the two measures separately.

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Earnest said both measures must be delivered to Obama’s desk.

“The only legislative strategy the president can support is one that will result in both pieces of legislation arriving at his desk,” he said. 

But he said they did not need to be packaged together and did not comment on timing.

“There is also this fundamental question ... about whether or not they need to arrive at the same time, on the same day, as part of the same legislative vehicle or separately. That's exactly what's being discussed on Capitol Hill right now,” Earnest said.

He also dodged a question on whether Obama would veto fast-track legislation that did not come alongside the workers' assistance bill, saying, “I don’t think it’s going to come to that.”

During the meeting, Obama reassured Democrats he insists on TAA and won't accept a package that just includes fast-track.

Obama "made clear that he will only back a path forward that sends both bills to his desk," the White House said. 

Getting fast-track done before the TAA bill could make it easier to pass the latter measure.

In the House, Democrats, who have typically backed TAA, voted it down last week as a way of killing fast-track. Both measures had to be approved under the floor procedure set up by House Republicans.

If the fast-track bill were already law, it would take away the incentive for House Democrats to vote against TAA.

In the House, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) told The Hill that Democrats who voted for fast-track in last week's vote are willing to do so again. 

In the Senate, it's not as clear that pro-trade Democrats are ready to endorse the new strategy.

The White House has been in constant communication with lawmakers since the trade package failed Friday. The president has spoken on the phone with members of Congress, mostly Democrats, as recently as Wednesday morning. 

On Wednesday evening, Obama will host lawmakers including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) for a congressional picnic on the South Lawn of the White House. But Earnest has said there won’t be arm-twisting on trade at the event. 

He brushed aside a suggestion the event will be awkward because of the divide between Obama and Democrats on trade. It’s a “goodwill gesture and a purely social occasion,” Earnest said. 

But Earnest also took a jab at Pelosi, whom the president has not spoken to since she voted to derail his trade package last Friday.
 
“The people who are most relevant to trying to finding this path forward are people who are part of the bipartisan majority that have allowed this legislation to advance," he said. “She doesn’t want the legislation to advance.”

Scott Wong and Vicki Needham contributed.

This story was updated at 7:42 p.m.