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Obama trade deal taking a hit in presidential race

Greg Nash

Lawmakers say harsh criticism leveled against President Obama’s Pacific Rim trade agreement from presidential candidates in both parties is further complicating its passage.

The stinging rhetoric against the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) comes on top of other challenges and could stifle what is already expected to be a difficult process.

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“We knew once we got into the primary season both for members running in their primaries and the presidential primaries that it was going to make it difficult politically,” said Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles BoustanyLouisiana needs Caroline Fayard as its new senator The Trail 2016: TrumpCare Rep's wife dismisses prostitution allegations against husband MORE Jr. (R-La.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee who backs the deal.

“So we have that and we have the problems we’re trying to resolve in the finalized agreement so it’s all going to delay things,” he added.

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollyOvernight Cybersecurity: Fallout from Yahoo's massive breach | House panel holds Clinton IT aide in contempt | Privacy groups want WhatsApp probe Oversight Committee votes to hold Clinton IT aide in contempt of Congress A clear signal on Georgia’s future MORE (Va.), one of the two dozen or so House Democrats backing the deal, also said the rhetoric from the 2016 field is complicating progress on the TPP.

“If we had people out there campaigning in favor of it, it would provide some protective cover here, give us a little safe place to go now and then,” Connolly told The Hill.

“Beating the drums in opposition out there in any way, shape or form certainly doesn’t help the climate here,” he said. 

The United States and 11 partner nations signed the TPP in Auckland, New Zealand, last week, but it is unclear if the deal will be considered by Congress this year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump slams Obama for ‘shameful’ 9/11 bill veto GOP chairman lobbies against overriding Obama on 9/11 bill Black Caucus demands Flint funding from GOP MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchInternet companies dominate tech lobbying Senate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners Overnight Tech: GOP says internet fight isn't over | EU chief defends Apple tax ruling | Feds roll out self-driving car guidelines | Netflix's China worries MORE (R-Utah) say the sweeping agreement probably won’t come up for consideration until after the November elections, and could even get pushed into 2017. 

Hatch argued the TPP’s legislative process will be lengthy regardless of the opposition rippling through the electoral landscape.

“It’s always been hard, there’s nothing easy about that [passing trade deals],” Hatch told The Hill.  

“So we’ll just have to when we can do it. It’s always going to be hard because the vast majority of Democrats are against this even though it’s their president.”

Democrats are under pressure to oppose the deal because of opposition from unions and other liberal groups.

A number of business constituencies, including pharmaceutical companies, also have deep reservations about the deal. That has left Republicans lukewarm at best toward the agreement.

The fiery backlash against the president’s trade agenda coming from the 2016 field only makes a congressional fight less attractive. Opponents are arguing that the controversial trade deal would lower U.S. jobs and wages, a message that is resonating with some voters. 

Republican presidential hopeful Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPost piles on: ‘Beyond debate’ Trump is unfit for office Clinton, Netanyahu have ‘in-depth’ conversation about US-Israeli ties NYT lays out argument against Trump for president MORE has vowed to kill the TPP, calling it a “terrible one-sided deal,” while Ted CruzTed CruzTrump enters new debate frontier Pence offers Cruz 'heartfelt thanks' for Trump endorsement Cruz: Trump hasn't apologized for personal insults MORE, the winner of the Iowa caucuses, has recently ramped up his anti-trade rhetoric. Marco RubioMarco RubioSenate rivals gear up for debates Rubio: End of Obama's term could be 'most damaging yet' Fifteen years since pivotal executive order, STORM Act could help fight terror finance MORE, who has railed against the president’s economic policies, has yet to take a position on the TPP, although he did back fast-track authority last summer. 

On the Democratic side, Bernie SandersBernie SandersClinton, Sanders to campaign together in New Hampshire Sanders discourages third-party votes: 'Not the time for a protest vote' Trump: Sanders supporters 'like Trump on trade, a lot' MORE has pledged to dismantle Obama’s trade agenda if elected.

“As your president, not only will I make sure that the TPP does not get implemented, I will not send any trade deal to Congress that will make it easier for corporations to outsource American jobs overseas,” he said last week during an event in New Hampshire.

Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPost piles on: ‘Beyond debate’ Trump is unfit for office Clinton, Netanyahu have ‘in-depth’ conversation about US-Israeli ties NYT lays out argument against Trump for president MORE also opposes the TPP, even though she supported it as Obama’s secretary of State.

Rep. Dave ReichertDavid ReichertOvernight Finance: Senators struggle with spending bill | Obama lifting Myanmar sanctions | Dems turn up heat on Wells Fargo | Panel votes to exempt Olympic medals from taxes Hatch: TPP deal can get done in lame-duck session Reichert: President Obama must rally Dems around Pacific trade deal MORE (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Trade Subcommittee, chalked up most of the critical trade talk to election-year political posturing.

He said he’s convinced that the next president can be persuaded to back a robust trade agenda.

“I’m hopeful that whoever is elected that when they come into office, we can sit down with the Ways and Means Committee, the [trade] ambassador and the new president and I’m sure we’ll be able to convince them the importance of trade and how important it is to the economy and how it does grow jobs,” he told The Hill. 

In the meantime, however, lawmakers wanting to move the TPP this year will have to endure criticism from the campaign trail.

Sen. Rob PortmanRob PortmanSenate rivals gear up for debates Funding bill includes million for opioid crisis Senate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners MORE (R-Ohio), a former U.S. Trade Representative who faces a tough reelection campaign, said Thursday that he “cannot support the TPP in its current form because it doesn’t provide that level playing field.” 

Portman’s opposition is perhaps the best symbol yet of the difficulty faced by trade supporters. That a former U.S. trade representative is opposing the deal speaks volumes to the perceived dangers of tackling the issue this year.

Kevin Madden, a former adviser to Republican presidential campaigns, is urging pro-TPP candidates to get out front and tout the economic and national security benefits of the deal in an effort to better navigate any potential congressional complications. 

“In this environment right now we’re combating the anti-trade talk with the facts,” he said.