McConnell moves to trade fight
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFive things to know about Georgia's Senate runoffs Obama chief economist says Democrats should accept smaller coronavirus relief package if necessary Memo to Biden: Go big — use the moment to not only rebuild but to rebuild differently MORE took a first procedural step Wednesday to having the Senate vote on fast-track trade legislation, a top priority of Senate GOP leaders and the White House.

The Kentucky Republican made a motion to proceed Wednesday to a House bill on tax exemptions, which the Senate will use as the legislative vehicle for fast-track.

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Fast-track legislation would prevent Congress from amending a trade pact the administration is negotiating with 11 Pacific Rim countries. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a major goal of President Obama’s and would be much simpler to conclude with fast-track authority.

His trade push has badly divided Democrats, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) criticizing the White House and Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidFeinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee Bottom line MORE (Nev.) threatening to block the trade bill this week.

The Senate could move to the trade bill after a final vote on legislation granting Congress the power to review a nuclear deal with Iran.

McConnell suggested the fast-track bill would not only help bolster trade, but also create American jobs. 

“This bipartisan bill is about a lot more than just expanding Congress’ oversight authority though. It’s about delivering prosperity for the middle class and supporting jobs,” he said. “It's about helping American workers sell more of what they make, and farmers sell more of what they grow. And it’s about eliminating unfair rules in other countries that discriminate against American workers and American jobs.”

It's unclear if Reid will have enough Democratic support to block a vote on the bill.

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the chamber's number two Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday that leadership was still talking to Democrats about the maneuver. 

“We're talking to our members about that. Of course it comes down to the 10 or 12 Democrats voting for fast-track. Those are the key votes,” he said. 

Asked if he thought they would be able to win the procedural argument, Durbin said, “I don't know the answer to that yet.”