President Obama's trade agenda survived a bad scare in the House on Thursday when the GOP rule governing debate for the package narrowly survived a 217-212 vote.
Thirty-four Republicans voted against the rule, while eight Democrats backed it.
A handful of pro-trade Democrats withheld their votes, watching the tally closely from the floor. Then, when it was apparent Republicans would not be able to pass the typically partisan measure on its own, they threw their votes in favor all at once.
The tight vote foreshadows the challenge GOP leaders will face Friday, when the House votes on two critical pieces of Obama’s trade agenda: fast-track authority and a separate bill offering help to workers displaced by trade.
GOP opposition to the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, as well as to fast-track, led Republicans to oppose their party’s rule.
Votes on House rules are tests of party discipline. Democrats traditionally vote against rules brought up by the House GOP.
House Republicans could only lose 26 of their own for the rule to pass without help from Democrats. Had the rule failed, the House would not have been able to debate and vote on the trade bills.
The eight Democrats who saved the trade package were Reps. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerTo sustain humanity COP26 must lead on both climate and biodiversity Ilhan Omar to Biden: 'Deliver on your promise to cancel student debt' Milestone bill would bar imports linked to forest destruction MORE (Ore.), Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDem hopes for infrastructure vote hit brick wall Biden struggles to rein in Saudi Arabia amid human rights concerns Trump company in late-stage talks to sell DC hotel: report MORE (Va.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), John Delaney (Md.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas), Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindBillionaire tax gains momentum Two House Democrats to retire ahead of challenging midterms Two senior House Democrats to retire MORE (Wis.) and Rick LarsenRichard (Rick) Ray LarsenFAA: New manufacturing issue discovered in undelivered Boeing 787 Dreamliners Newest Boeing 737 Max takes first test flight Democrats seek answers from Boeing, FAA after production issues with 737 Max, Dreamliner jets MORE (Wash.).
Republicans have repeatedly had problems with controversial legislation under Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE (R-Ohio).
Rep. Matt SalmonMatthew (Matt) James SalmonTrump endorses Kari Lake to succeed 'RINO' Doug Ducey as Arizona governor The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? Former Rep. Matt Salmon launches gubernatorial bid in Arizona MORE (R-Ariz.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, earlier on Thursday predicted the rule might be in trouble because conservatives were unhappy with the way the bills were structured.
“I think the rule vote is going to be very, very telling. I think there are a lot of members of the Freedom Caucus that may not be supportive of the rule,” Salmon said in an interview with The Hill's Molly K. Hooper.
Thursday’s drama was reminiscent of the House nearly failing to advance the so-called “cromnibus” legislation to fund the federal government in December.
The rule for the $1.1 trillion spending package advanced by just one vote after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) lobbied conservatives to change their votes. No Democrats swooped in to help with that vote even though many of them supported the underlying legislation.
GOP leaders and the White House for weeks have been lobbying to win members over for fast-track, which would allow Obama to send trade deals to Congress for up-or-down votes.
Peter Schroeder contributed.
This story was updated at 5:27 p.m.