Lines harden ahead of trade vote

Lines harden ahead of trade vote
© Greg Nash

Senate Democratic 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 (D-Nev.) signaled confidence Tuesday morning that his conference will block progress on fast-track trade legislation backed by President Obama.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate approves two energy regulators, completing panel On The Money: Biden announces key members of economic team | GOP open to Yellen as Treasury secretary, opposed to budget pick | GAO: Labor Department 'improperly presented' jobless data Senate GOP open to confirming Yellen to be Biden's Treasury secretary MORE (R-Ky.) called on Democrats Tuesday to vote to begin debate on the legislation, promising them the opportunity to amend it later in the week.


But McConnell refused to bend to Democratic demands that fast-track be joined with a customs and enforcement bill that would crack down on currency manipulation and a package of trade preferences for sub-Saharan Africa.

Reid and other Democrats indicated that without those concessions, the fast-track bill will not move forward. That would deal a significant blow to Obama, who has lobbied Democrats to back his trade agenda. 

The legislation would make it easier for Obama to complete a major trade pact with 11 Latin American and Asian nations be preventing Congress from amending it. 

Democrats say it is not enough that McConnell is willing to pair fast-track with Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a program intended to help workers who are hurt be increased trade.

Reid said McConnell’s offer fell short and hinted that he would be able to muster enough Democrats to block the trade package.

Other Democratic senators dug in Tuesday on their opposition to the trade legislation, which has pitted liberal senators against the Obama administration. 

“Instead of standing in a corner trying to figure out a way to bring a trade bill to the floor that doesn't do anything for the middle class... they out to come over here and figure out how to help the middle class,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Tuesday in comments on the Senate floor.

As she commented, she gestured in the direction of where Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) were huddling with aides. 

Reid panned the Republican's offer.

“It seems to me he said there will be TPA and TAA in the bill and that dealing with Africa and these other provisions dealing with customs won’t be in the bill. That’s unfortunate,” he said.

Reid suggested that McConnell combine all four bills into the package he brings to the floor and then give his Republican colleagues a chance to split it up through amendment.

“We at this stage support these four bills being moved forward at the same time,” he said. “If he doesn’t do that, it’s going to be very difficult to get to the guts of this — the bills that are reported out of committee.”

McConnell has warned Democrats not to block the fast-track bill, and he argued that in accepting TAA, Republicans were making a concession. 

“There are many members on my side of the aisle who have real reservations about TAA. I do as well but I expect that at the end of the process, after the Senate works its will, that TAA, Trade Adjustment Assistance, will be part of a package that the Senate sends to the House,” he said.

McConnell also suggested that the other trade bills demanded by Democrats could be considered at a later date on the Senate floor. 

“I’m confident that an enduring agreement can be found if the Senate is allowed to work its will and debate openly,” he said.

But that wasn't enough for Reid, who indicated he wanted all four bills included in the same package, which would make it more difficult to dislodge the customs bill. 

The customs bill includes language targeting currency manipulation by foreign countries that is a priority for Democratic senators. 

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) called on his Democratic colleagues to accept McConnell's offer, saying “the majority leader has come here today to suggest a path forward. I hope we'll not reject it.”

“Let's begin the debate," he said. "We should realize as Democrats, we've already realized a great victory here." 


Jordain Carney contributed to this story.

This story was updated at 12:35 p.m.