Obama 'cautiously optimistic' on TPP trade deal

President Obama said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Congress will pass his signature Pacific Rim trade deal, but he acknowledged opposition in both parties and election-year politics could stall the pact. 

“I am cautiously optimistic that we can still get it done,” Obama told a gathering of the National Governors Association at the White House. 

Facing opposition from labor unions and Democratic leaders in Congress, the president said he would rely on a coalition of pro-trade Democrats and Republicans in Congress to advance the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

“Labor unions — and I am a big labor guy — they are not happy with me on this,” Obama said. 

The president said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senator blocking Trump's Intel nominee Spending bill delay raises risk of partial government shutdown support GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone Overnight Regulation: FTC to probe Facebook over user data | FDA takes step to regulating flavors in tobacco products | Congress may include background check measure in funding bill Judge rules FEC wrongly dismissed complaint against conservative group MORE (R-Wis.) “have been supportive of this trade deal” though they have “concerns along the margins.”

Obama said he would send the agreement to Congress for a vote “at some point this year,” but did not indicate a specific date. 

If Congress does ratify the agreement, it would be a major legacy-defining accomplishment for Obama. 

The massive trade deal comprises 40 percent of the world economy and it would be a significant step toward achieving his administration’s pivot toward Asia.

But the agreement faces staunch opposition both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. 

McConnell has warned Obama not to send the agreement to Congress for a vote before November’s election. He also has concerns about language in the deal pertaining to tobacco products, a major export from his home state. 

Obama acknowledged those differences with McConnell, with whom he met earlier in February. 

Ryan dealt a blow to the sweeping trade deal two weeks ago, saying it does not yet have enough votes to pass the House. 

The 2016 presidential campaign has also scrambled the politics of trade. While Republicans are traditionally supportive of free trade, the party’s presidential frontrunner, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpKoch-backed group launches six-figure ad buy against Heitkamp Anti-abortion Dem wins primary fight Lipinski holds slim lead in tough Illinois primary fight MORE, has slammed Obama’s trade agenda. 

Both Democratic candidates, former secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonKoch-backed group launches six-figure ad buy against Heitkamp Trump keeps up 'low IQ' attack on Maxine Waters GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersAnti-abortion Dem wins primary fight Lipinski holds slim lead in tough Illinois primary fight Overnight Defense: Senate sides with Trump on military role in Yemen | Dem vets push for new war authorization on Iraq anniversary | General says time isn't 'right' for space corps MORE (I-Vt.), oppose the deal.

“The presidential campaigns have created some noise and roiled things a little bit within the Republican Party and in the Democratic Party around this issue,” Obama said.  

The president offered a lengthy defense of the deal, saying “it is indisputable” American workers and businesses “will be better off than the existing trade regime” by cutting tariffs and boosting American exports in the rapidly expanding Asia-Pacific region. 

“Our concern there was that China was the 800-pound gorilla and if we allowed them to set trade rules out there, American business and American workers were going to be cut out,” Obama said. 

But if the United States set the standards, “then it would be an improvement for American businesses and American workers and we would know we would be able to compete in those areas for years to come.”