Congressional passage of a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade agreement hinges on several key endorsements that will make or break the pact on Capitol Hill.
Republican leaders, a tight coalition of Democrats and a diverse range of business groups — all of whom worked hard to pass trade promotion authority (TPA) this summer — are needed to push through the massive 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which was completed in early October.
Trade remains a tough sell — and the vote margins will be tight in Congress — as President Obama and his administration aim to build support for the TPP agreement and pass it before he leaves office while House and Senate lawmakers run the 2016 election-year gauntlet.
While there is little argument that the TPP represents a major part of the president’s rebalancing toward Asia strategy, there are concerns from lawmakers that the agreement doesn’t go far enough to meet the demands set by Congress in the fast-track law.
Here’s a look at several lawmakers and business groups that could be the difference between passage and failure of the TPP.
BUSINESS GROUPS: Support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable — three prominent pro-trade groups with long reaches into the business community — would probably propel TPP through Congress.
But their opposition would strike a devastating blow to the Obama administration’s efforts to get TPP passed and would likely torpedo the deal.
All of the groups, which are still evaluating the deal, were key allies in the president’s bid to wrangle enough votes to chalk up a win on TPA, which doesn’t allow Congress to amend or filibuster the TPP agreement and would expedite its passage.
As huge proponents of fast-track and more broadly expanded trade, the business groups face a difficult decision on whether to support the final TPP product, which they spent years trying to mold.
Don’t discount the influence of powerful pharmaceutical companies that are irate they didn’t get the 12 years of data exclusivity they wanted for biologics drugs in TPP.
REPUBLICAN LAWMAKERS: Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanOvernight Finance: Lawmakers scramble to avoid shutdown | Why some Republicans worry about Trump's tax plan | Trade tensions with Canada Senate's No. 2 Republican: Border tax 'probably dead' New ObamaCare repeal bill on life support MORE (Wis.), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin BradyOvernight Finance: Lawmakers scramble to avoid shutdown | Why some Republicans worry about Trump's tax plan | Trade tensions with Canada Trump officials stage full-court press for tax plan Senate's No. 2 Republican: Border tax 'probably dead' MORE (Texas), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Finance: Lawmakers scramble to avoid shutdown | Why some Republicans worry about Trump's tax plan | Trade tensions with Canada Hundreds of former EPA employees blast Trump on climate change Democrats must have a better response on net neutrality than simply 'no' MORE (Ky.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchGinsburg pines for more collegial court confirmations Senate's No. 2 Republican: Border tax 'probably dead' Overnight Finance: Inside Trump's tax plan | White House mulls order pulling out of NAFTA | New fight over Dodd-Frank begins MORE (Utah) are four of the top lawmakers to watch for in the GOP.
So far, none has endorsed the deal and all have expressed concerns about certain provisions while vowing to thoroughly examine the TPP pact.
With support in the House most in doubt, some Republicans have said that if Ryan is willing to shepherd the deal through the lower chamber, then GOP leadership and most of his conference will probably follow his lead.
In the Senate, losing Hatch, a co-author of fast-track, and McConnell would make the TPP road much more difficult and would likely spike the agreement until after Obama leaves office.
Hatch hasn’t minced words on the deal, calling the TPP “woefully inadequate” and suggesting that it may need to be renegotiated to provide longer protections for biologics drugs, a notion that the White House has deemed impossible and a move that would kill the massive agreement.
28 HOUSE DEMOCRATS: More than two-dozen Democrats, including Reps. Ron KindRon KindLawmakers targeted as district politics shift New bill does hard job of injecting capital into needy communities House GOP campaign arm targets Democrats over ObamaCare anniversary MORE (Wis.) and Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollyBudget woes hinder US cybersecurity buildup Our IT system is dying: Here’s how President Trump can save it What Democrats want in shutdown fight MORE (Va.) who backed fast-track, are crucial to the TPP’s passage.
The White House needs the coalition to stick together and supply a foundation of support from the president’s party.
So far, many of the 28 have sounded amenable to the agreement, although most are withholding their support until they finish evaluating the deal.
Connolly said recently that he feels like the 28 “are pretty solid” in their support and that many of those Democrats are probably “favorably disposed to TPP at the end of the day."
WILDCARD DOZEN DEMOCRATS: Expectations are that there may be another dozen or so House Democrats who might be willing to support the TPP even though they didn’t back the president’s fast-track efforts.
On top of the 28, there were 12 other Democrats who voted to extend the Democratic-backed Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program while their colleagues voted it down in a maneuver to stop fast-track.
Referred to by some trade watchers at the “Hoyer group,” that additional 12 on TAA included House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) who has backed trade deals in the past, along with Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.), Denny HeckDenny HeckExclusive: Guccifer 2.0 hacked memos expand on Pennsylvania House races Heck enjoys second political wind Incoming lawmaker feeling a bit overwhelmed MORE and Adam SmithAdam SmithPentagon starts review of nuclear posture ordered by Trump Overnight Cybersecurity: Rice denies wrongly unmasking Trump team | Dems plead for electric grid cyber funds | China reportedly targeting cloud providers Lawmakers introduce bill to end warrantless phone searches at border MORE, both of Washington.
Those extra Democratic votes might be needed if typically pro-trade Republicans line up against the TPP deal, with just enough lawmakers, 218, voting to pass fast-track.
Another to watch is Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, who has set high standards for the TPP but is heading up Democratic efforts to vet the trade agreement one issue at a time.
PRO-FAST-TRACK REPUBLICANS: There are a handful of issues — the biologics protections, a tobacco carve-out, dairy and currency— that have the potential to peel off Republican lawmakers who supported fast-track but are unhappy with the final deal.
In the Senate, tobacco-state Republicans Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard BurrRichard BurrTrump voter who cast ballot illegally won’t be charged Burr: US in new Cold War with Russia Senator: No signs of GOP 'slow-walking' Russia investigation MORE of North Carolina, who voted in favor of fast-track, have already said they would oppose the TPP and are working to sink the deal over provisions that exempt the industry from certain legal protections.
It’s highly likely that some House lawmakers from North Carolina and other tobacco states who backed fast-track will oppose TPP over these concerns.
House Republicans have expressed broader concerns about dairy, currency and pharmaceutical protections, too, and those all make for greater uncertainty on TPP support as lawmakers work to figure out where they stand.