Ryan: 'Within striking distance' on trade

Ryan: 'Within striking distance' on trade
© Greg Nash

Backers of a major trade bill are “within striking distance” of securing enough votes to pass the bill in the House, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP chairman to discuss Charlottesville as domestic terrorism at hearing Trump’s isolation grows GOP lawmaker: Trump 'failing' in Charlottesville response MORE (R-Wis.) said Thursday.

“We had a very good week. We’re not quite there yet but we are picking up votes every day,” Ryan told reporters in a packed news briefing in his committee room in the Capitol, adding that he had won over “a few” more supporters on the House floor during a round of votes Thursday.

“The undecideds are falling the right way, so we are getting within striking distance,” he said.

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For Ryan, who authored the House trade legislation, his remarks Thursday were perhaps his boldest yet that legislation granting President Obama so-called “fast-track” trade authority can clear the lower chamber.

“Candidly, I have never been as confident as I am right now” about the bill’s success, he said.

While he wouldn’t speculate on current whip counts, Ryan said strong GOP support for trade promotion authority (TPA) means Republicans won’t need as many Democratic votes as they previously thought.

“Two years ago, we said we were gonna need 50 Democrats to get this done,” Ryan said. “We won’t need that many, but we’re still going to need the president to deliver votes and more than they have right now.

“So we’re not quite yet there and getting there is going to require some progress on their side of the aisle.”

Both Ryan and Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIt's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him How Republicans can bring order out of the GOP's chaos Republican donor sues GOP for fraud over ObamaCare repeal failure MORE (R-Ohio) spoke by phone with Obama this week about TPA, and Ryan said he’s been in frequent contact with White House officials. The president, Ryan said, is “working the phones pretty hard” trying to round up Democratic votes.

Obama has said fast-track authority is critical to a major trade deal the U.S. is negotiating with 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

In addition to his outreach to Obama, the Ways and Means chairman also has been huddling with small groups of fellow House Republicans, including some Tea Party critics who don’t trust Obama. His pitch: free trade is fundamental to the conservative platform.  

“This is about a stronger economy and a stronger national security,” Ryan said. “The world is watching, that is very clear. They want to know if America can still lead or if we are really in retreat or decline. … My argument is, if you’re standing still on trade, then we are losing as a country.”

TPA was able to move forward in the Senate last month only after Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump’s isolation grows Ellison: Trump has 'level of sympathy' for neo-Nazis, white supremacists Trump touts endorsement of second-place finisher in Alabama primary MORE (R-Ky.) cut a deal with Washington Democratic Sens. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellDemocrats demand changes to FCC Republican nominee's confirmation Bipartisanship? It's happening to secure America's energy future Senate confirms Trump's nominee for No. 2 Interior post MORE and Patty MurrayPatty MurrayCBO to release report Tuesday on ending ObamaCare insurer payments OPINION | Progressives, now's your chance to secure healthcare for all McConnell open to bipartisan deal on health insurance payments MORE, pledging that he’d hold a vote to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank — an 80-year-old institution that conservatives are hoping to kill this month.

But Ryan repeatedly vowed Thursday that the two issues would not be linked together in the House legislation.

“Ex-Im has nothing to do with TPA,” he said. “If we need Ex-Im in order to have a successful export strategy for America, heaven help us.”