Obama says he has 20 Dem votes on fast-track
© Greg Nash

President Obama believes he has 20 Democratic votes in the House for a bill to grant him fast-track authority to negotiate new trade deals.

The president revealed his whip count to Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesMany Democrats want John Bolton's testimony, but Pelosi stays mum SEC's Clayton demurs on firing of Manhattan US attorney he would replace Democrats face tough questions with Bolton MORE (Conn.) during a phone call intended to talk the undecided Democrat into backing the legislation. Himes said he spoke to Obama as recently as Monday, according to The Wall Street Journal.

ADVERTISEMENT

Obama’s estimate puts him closer to the number of votes needed to pass the fast-track bill through the House. 

It is higher than other counts, including The Hill’s, which show as few as 14 House Democrats would vote for the legislation. 

It’s not clear exactly how many Democratic votes the president will need, but it could be more than 20 due to opposition from Republican lawmakers who generally back free trade but are reluctant to grant Obama more power. 

If Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) can muster 200 votes from his conference, Obama would need 18 Democrats to back him.

The fast-track measure is critical to advancing a sweeping 12-nation trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations, which is at the top of Obama’s second-term agenda.

Obama is making an aggressive effort to sway undecided Democrats, who are also facing pressure to oppose the bill from labor unions and liberal groups that fear new free trade agreements would cost Americans jobs. 

Himes told the Journal he spoke to the president on the phone Monday, and took calls from White House officials last week. 

“He asked me: do you really think — based on my record — do you really think I would be fighting for something that would hurt the American middle class?” Himes said. “I’ve got to try to see what he sees.”

Democrats are also looking for assurances from the president that he will offer political support from organized labor, which has already launched ad campaigns against lawmakers who back the fast-track bill. 

The White House said Tuesday the president has told lawmakers he is prepared to offer political cover if they side with him.  

“The president has been clear that he’ll stand with the Democrats who stand with him on this issue,” said press secretary Josh Earnest.