Pelosi on trade: 'The fight will continue'

Pelosi on trade: 'The fight will continue'
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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi vowed Thursday that liberals will carry their trade fight into the ongoing talks over a trans-Pacific deal at the top of President Obama's legislative wish list.

The California Democrat said this week's passage of fast-track legislation, a key part of Obama's trade agenda, is just one setback in the much larger debate over the emerging Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a mammoth deal between the U.S and 11 Pacific-Rim countries that would affect as much as 40 percent of the world economy.

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"House Democrats have been united in our concern about the impact on American workers and their paychecks," Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "The Senate's final passage of the trade promotion authority ends one phase, but it is not final. The fight will continue. The phase is over, but the fight is not."

Passage of the trade promotion authority (TPA) bill diminishes the already limited negotiating power of the minority Democrats. But Pelosi said the Democrats' leverage resides in their ability to sway public opinion as details of the still-unreleased TPP emerge.

"We will be shining a bright light, [a] clear focus on what is going on in the TPP," she said. "The American people expect and deserve to see what is in that bill before their representatives vote for it."

Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee who has raised a laundry list of objections to the TPP, is promoting a similar strategy.

Levin said concerns he's been raising with administration officials for months, on issues as diverse as pharmaceutical policy, conflict-settlement rules and workers rights in Vietnam and Mexico, have gone largely ignored. He suggested public pressure is the Democrats' best chance of influencing the debate.

"At this point, on all of these key issues, we are not sure of what the outcome will be, and we're determined to impact the outcome," Levin said. "How do we do it? By talking more and more publicly about this.

"We're going to use every possible means to try to get it on the right track," he added.

House Democrats this week suffered a resounding defeat in the trade debate when the Senate sent TPA legislation, known as fast-track, to Obama's desk. Fast-track is seen as a vital step in the president's bid to finalize the trans-Pacific deal.

Liberal Democrats in both chambers have broken with Obama in blasting the emerging TPP deal as lacking sufficient protections for the environment, food safety, workers rights overseas and jobs and wages at home, among other concerns. But passage of the TPA puts those critics at a distinct disadvantage, because it steals Congress's powers to amend or filibuster Obama's trade deals.

Pelosi said she trusts the administration officials finalizing the TPP.

"We share their values," she said.

But asked if she has confidence that the White House will be amenable to the Democrats' many concerns, Pelosi's response carried hints of doubt. Instead, she suggested public sentiment would hold more influence on the negotiations than Democrats would.

"Let's just be very hopeful," she said. "I think the more public support we have for our position the more leverage we will have, so we will be taking it to the public."

Levin said the overwhelming Democratic opposition to a workers aid bill earlier in the month in a bid to derail fast-track is an indication that the administration has a long way to go to convince Democrats that the TPP is a new breed of trade deal that won't harm U.S. jobs.

"We're going to keep pursuing them, because this administration will have the challenge: can they put together a TPP that would have broad Democratic support instead of one-sixth or -seventh of our caucus?" Levin said.

"That's the issue."