Senate rejects currency measure
© Greg Nash

Senators rejected a controversial currency provision on Friday that Republicans and the Obama administration warned would have killed fast-track trade legislation if it had been approved.

In a 48-51 vote, the Senate turned aside an amendment from Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanDemocrats confront difficult prospects for midterms Biden, GOP set to find out if US wants activist government Sunday shows - Biden economic agenda dominates MORE (R-Ohio) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowOvernight Health Care: Biden sets goal of at least one shot to 70 percent of adults by July 4 | White House to shift how it distributes unallocated vaccines to states The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Can Cheney defy the odds and survive again? Overnight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna MORE (D-Mich.) that would have required that any future trade deals submitted under the fast-track bill include enforceable currency provisions.

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The vote is a win for Republican leadership and President Obama, who lobbied hard to defeat the provision.

Obama argued it would have undermined his effort to complete a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade deal that the administration hopes to finish and send to Congress once it has fast-track authority.

The Senate is expected to vote as soon as Friday night on fast-track, which would prevent Congress from amending the Asia-Pacific trade pact.

If the currency provision prevailed, the White House had warned it could veto the fast-track bill, which is one of Obama’s top priorities.

The battle over the provision went down to the wire, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggesting hours before the vote that it was unclear if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would have enough votes to block the amendment.

“I think it's very close. I can't tell you right now,” the Texas Republican said, adding that he believes Obama was making calls against the measure.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) warned before the vote that “a vote for the Portman-Stabenow amendment is a vote to kill TPA.”

But Portman and Stabenow have repeatedly rejected that argument.

“The president agrees with us based on his previous statements,” Portman told reporters. “I find it very hard to believe, if there is a trade promotion authority that passes the Senate, passed the House, that the president would not embrace it.”

The inclusion of the Portman’s amendment would also likely have complicated efforts in the House to pass the bill. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said that it's “laughable” for Congress to try to manage currency manipulation.

Portman pledged ahead of the vote to “keep up the fight” on currency. The Ohio Republican added that “the customs bill for sure, but also having an opportunity in the House.”

Stabenow called the vote against her amendment a "major step in the wrong direction." 

"If this fast track trade bill passes the Senate, it is deeply disturbing that it will not include language needed to protect American workers and businesses," she added. 

Hatch and Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also tried to pull support from the Portman-Stabenow bill by offering an alternative amendment.

Hatch said ahead of the vote that, unlike Portman’s amendment, it would give U.S. trade negotiators a “multitude of tools” to address currency manipulation, but not undermine current deals or invite retaliation against the Federal Reserve.

Senators voted 70-29 to approve the Hatch and Wyden's proposal, but because the amendment sought to change Portman's amendment, it won't be included in the legislation.  

Senators also rejected adding changes to the fast-track bill from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

Warren's amendment would have blocked fast-track procedures from being used on trade deals that included Investor-State Dispute Settlements.

Flake wanted to strip the trade adjustment assistance program, which would likely have threatened Democratic support for the overall measure.

Brown’s amendment would have required congressional approval before any country could join the treaty currently being negotiated with 11 Asia-Pacific countries.

- Updated at 7:31 p.m.