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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.

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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.

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Rep. Matt SalmonMatthew (Matt) James SalmonArizona voters like Kyl but few think he'll stick around Former Sen. Jon Kyl to replace McCain in Senate Arizona governor faces pressure over McCain replacement 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.