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BALTIMORE — Democratic critics of President Obama’s trade agenda got a playful warning from Joe Biden on Thursday, when the vice president announced that he’ll be the administration’s leading pitchman for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“I know a lot of you don’t like TPP, but you’re going to have to see me,” Biden told scores of House Democrats gathered in Baltimore for their yearly retreat. “I apologize, because they think we get along with each other, so they’re sending me.”

{mosads}The room erupted in laughter.

“I hope we get along,” Biden quickly added.

The TPP — a sweeping 12-nation accord that would affect as much as 40 percent of the global economy — is among Obama’s top legislative priorities as he navigates his last year in the White House. But many of the president’s closest liberal allies on Capitol Hill have hammered the agreement with warnings that it will eliminate jobs at home, harm workers overseas, threaten food safety and damage the environment, among a long list of other concerns.

Both former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls, have also voiced their opposition to the accord.

The dynamics have left Democratic leaders in a tough position, caught between the vocal opposition of their liberal base and the inclination to help Obama achieve a big victory in his final months in office.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has so far remained noncommittal, saying Wednesday that she and other Democrats are still examining the agreement. Pelosi last year had opposed a trade-promotion authority (TPA) bill, known as fast-track, which the administration viewed as vital to securing the TPP because it prevents Congress from amending or filibustering the president’s trade deals. 

“What I’ve said to members is, ‘A vote on fast track is one vote; now, you review TPP in its substance,’ ” Pelosi told reporters in Baltimore. “And we’ll see what the decisions are as members are studying it.”

The TPA bill passed; the TPP bill has not yet reached the floor of either chamber.

Asked if she expects a vote on the TPP this spring, Pelosi said, “I have no idea.”

The administration, meanwhile, maintains that the TPP is vital if the United States and other Pacific Rim allies hope to contain China’s influence over trade policy in the region. It’s an argument Biden amplified to the Democrats on Thursday.

“All kidding aside, from a strategic foreign policy standpoint … China has no option if we pass this,” Biden said. “Their leverage gets removed.”

Tags Barack Obama China Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi TPA TPP Trade
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