Liberals rally to sink Obama trade deal

Liberals are amping up their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on and off of Capitol Hill, amid escalating concerns that the package will get an 11th hour vote after the November elections.

Republican leaders in both chambers have said it's unlikely the mammoth Pacific Rim trade deal will reach the floor this year. But the accord remains a top priority for President Obama in the twilight of his final term, and the critics — leery of pro-TPP members in both parties — aren't taking anything for granted.

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Liberal TPP opponents this month have launched a new wave of petition campaigns and fundraising drives; a free concert series is touring the country through the summer; and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are vowing to do "everything we possibly can," in the words of Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), to block a vote this year. 

“Make no mistake about it, Speaker [Paul] Ryan and the administration are working hand-in-hand to plot a path for the TPP in a lame duck session of Congress," DeLauro, who's among the loudest TPP critics, said this week in an email. "They will do everything possible to try to pass the TPP after the election." 

Fueling those concerns, Obama on Friday sent notice to Congress that he intends to deliver TPP implementing legislation to Capitol Hill later in the year — a maneuver dictated by the fast-track trade resolution Congress passed in 2015. 

The move means the administration must wait at least 30 days before sending up the bill, and both Obama and U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael B.G. FromanUS trade rep spent nearly M to furnish offices: report Overnight Finance: Trump hits China on currency manipulation, countering Treasury | Trump taps two for Fed board | Tax deadline revives fight over GOP overhaul | Justices set to hear online sales tax case Froman joins Mastercard to oversee global business expansion MORE have made clear they'll work with congressional leaders on the timing. 

But the proposal will likely not arrive before November's elections, as the trade deal has emerged as a top issue on the presidential trail, where both Republican Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE and Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Ex-FBI official: 'Links and coordination' with Russia happen everyday Ex-FBI agent: Americans should be 'disgusted' by Russian interference in Mueller report MORE say they're dead set against it.

Obama's move is a clear indication that the president, far from bowing to liberal pressure, will instead push full-throttle to try to pass the enormous 12-nation agreement — the largest in U.S. history — before he leaves office. And the liberal critics aren't giving much credence to Ryan's recent suggestion that he won't act on the TPP because it lacks the votes to pass.

"You can trust but you have to verify," DeLauro told The Hill Thursday, referring to Ryan. "We are not leaving a stone unturned in terms of mobilizing against any kind of a vote in the lame-duck session."

Liberal advocacy groups are poised for a lame-duck fight, as well. 

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, said advocates are sponsoring "dozens" of events around the country designed to steer individual lawmakers of both parties away from the deal. 

Two other advocacy groups, Democracy for America (DFA) and CREDO, launched a petition this week urging Clinton to tell Obama explicitly not to push for a lame-duck TPP vote. 

A free concert series, dubbed "Rock Against the TPP," is touring the country with designs to "sound the alarm about the toxic backroom deal." Featuring Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, hip-hop artist Talib Kweli and actress Evangeline Lilly, the troupe has upcoming shows in Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., and San Francisco.  

And the Campaign for America's Future, another liberal group, launched a new fundraising campaign this month warning that the TPP is "a political zombie" — backed by some of the most "powerful forces" in Washington — that returns to life "every time you think it's dead."

"They know that legislators who are retiring (by choice or by ballot) will be chasing lobbying jobs with the very firms who want the TPP to pass," the group blasted to supporters last week in a fundraising email. "We have to fight back." 

The group suggested a $10 donation would help.

The critics have a powerful ally in Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Five former Obama ambassadors back Buttigieg Both sides were wrong about Mueller report, and none of it will likely matter for 2020 MORE, the Vermont Independent whose presidential campaign featured relentless attacks on the TPP as a corporate giveaway that would harm the environment and ship jobs overseas. Sanders's primary attacks on Clinton over trade are widely viewed as influencing her decision to come out against the TPP, which she had praised as Obama's secretary of State.

Sanders's office did not respond to requests for comment this week about his opposition strategy. But he issued a statement Friday saying he's "disappointed" in Obama's continued push on the bill. And other Democratic TPP critics say they expect the liberal icon to use his new star power to lead the charge against a lame-duck vote.

"I believe that Sen. Sanders will be engaged and involved very heavily in that effort," DeLauro said Thursday. "It wasn't just a part of politics for the primary election."

Not all of TPP's opponents appear concerned about a lame-duck vote. 

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Warren spends big on staff in high-stakes 2020 gamble On The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost MORE (D-Mass.), another liberal champion, told Bloomberg this month that the bill "was looking pretty dead."

"I didn’t feel a pulse," she said.

Yet Obama is hoping the political winds shift in his favor after the campaign season ends and the polls close. 

“Hopefully after the election is over and the dust settles, there will be more attention to the actual facts behind the deal and it won’t just be a political ... football,” Obama said last week from the White House. “We’ve got a pretty good record of getting stuff done when I think it is important."

With that in mind, Wallach said she's "not planning any vacations" until Congress leaves town for the year. The fast track law — combined with Obama's lame-duck status, his personal investment in TPP as a potential part of his legacy and an unpredictable Congress — all make it impossible to forecast what might happen in the lame-duck, she said.

Wallach was more certain about this: If you're a member of Congress, she said, "you're going to be hearing about TPP when you go home."

Vicki Needham contributed.