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 Ryan8th graders refuse to take photo with Paul Ryan Dems plot recess offensive on ObamaCare President Trump needs to make some huuuge changes, and soon 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 BoehnerTrump aide: Boehner is the disaster Boehner: Tax reform is 'just a bunch of happy talk' Lobbying World 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 got harsher GOP reception than Bush on budget Franken explains why he made an exception to diss Cruz in his book The Memo: Trump returns to challenges at home MORE (R-Ky.) cut a deal with Washington Democratic Sens. Maria CantwellMaria CantwellOvernight Energy: Democrats take on key Trump Interior nominee Democrats prod Trump Interior nominee over lobbying work Cohn, Mnuchin visit Capitol Hill to discuss tax reform MORE and Patty MurrayPatty MurraySenate Dems urge White House not to roll back free birth control rule Overnight Finance: Dems introduce minimum wage bill | Sanders clashes with Trump budget chief | Border tax proposal at death's door Sanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill 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.”