Vulnerable senator comes out against Obama trade pact

Greg Nash

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on Thursday announced his opposition to President Obama’s landmark Pacific Rim trade agreement.

Portman, who is considered vulnerable this year in his reelection race, said he cannot support the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in its current form.

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“From currency manipulation, to rules of origin for automobiles, to protection for U.S. biologics — we can do better,” said Portman, who served as U.S. Trade Representative under former President George W. Bush.

“I cannot support the TPP in its current form because it doesn't provide that level playing field,” he added.

Portman is likely to face off in November against former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. The race is expected to be competitive, with Democrats viewing it as a pickup opportunity.

Michael Froman, President Obama’s chief trade negotiator, this week signed the TPP with 11 other nations. It is the largest trade deal in U.S. history. It would reduce trade barriers across a range of goods and services.

But it is not likely to come to the Senate floor before November's elections.

Portman’s statement on Thursday indicates the deal lacks the 50 votes needed to pass in the Senate. He is the chamber’s foremost expert on trade issues. 

“I will continue to urge the Obama administration to support American workers and address these issues before any vote on the TPP agreement,” Portman said. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that he and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) discussed the trade deal with Obama at a White House meeting Tuesday. 

McConnell advised the president that Congress should not vote on the trade deal until the lame-duck session in November.

“Both the Democratic candidates for president opposed to the deal, and a number of the presidential candidates of our party opposed to the deal. It's my advice that we not pursue that, certainly before the election,” he said.

“The Speaker's a free trader. I'm a free trader, and obviously, the president is as well. There are a number of flaws here. We're gonna keep on talking about it and seeing if there's a way forward,” he added.

The trade accord's relatively soft stance on currency manipulation has sparked opposition from some lawmakers and major U.S. companies, such as Ford.  

“Currency is the 21st century trade barrier and it must be addressed in TPP,” said Ziad Ojakli, Ford Motor Co.'s group vice president of government and community relations.

“Ford deeply appreciates Sen. Rob Portman’s view that real free trade requires enforcement of existing rules that prohibit currency manipulation,” Ojakli said. 

“His leadership on trade supports the future of American manufacturing and Ohio jobs.”

Ford wants negotiators to add tougher language cracking down on currency manipulation.

Vicki Needham contributed.