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Obama scrambles for votes on fast-track trade authority

Obama scrambles for votes on fast-track trade authority

President Obama scrambled for votes Monday as Democratic support trickled in for his trade agenda, despite strong pressure from unions.

Labor groups led by the AFL-CIO are furiously lobbying Democrats to oppose fast-track authority when the Senate votes on a procedural motion Tuesday.

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The measure would help Obama negotiate the largest trade deal in history with 11 other countries along the Pacific Rim by limiting interference from Congress.

Obama’s trade bill needs 60 votes, and he can afford no more than two Democratic defections who previously backed fast-track. As of Monday evening, he had not yet secured public promises from all the Democrats he needs.

Backers of fast-track likely need a dozen Democratic votes because five of the Senate’s Republicans voted against the trade package last month and Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Trump impeachment ignites GOP civil war GOP lawmaker gives up honorary college degree in wake of Electoral College vote MORE (R-Texas) is indicating in an op-ed on Breitbart News that he will change his vote from yes to no. Cruz, who is running for president, says he is wary of backroom negotiations, expressing concern that the Export-Import Bank reauthorization will be included in the horsetrading.

Sens. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Texas, other states bring antitrust lawsuit against Google | Krebs emphasizes security of the election as senators butt heads | Twitter cracks down on coronavirus vaccine misinformation Senators press federal agencies for more information on Russian cyberattack New FCC commissioner's arrival signals gridlock early next year MORE (D-Wash.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampHarrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment Biden to tap Vilsack for Agriculture secretary: reports OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA guidance may exempt some water polluters from Supreme Court permit mandate | Vilsack's stock rises with Team Biden | Arctic wildfires linked to warming temperatures: NOAA MORE (D-N.D.) said Monday they are still reviewing their options, while Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinGeorgia keeps Senate agenda in limbo Trump signs bill authorizing memorial to fallen journalists Sweeping COVID-19, spending deal hits speed bumps MORE (D-Md.) insisted he wants fast-track to remain bundled with Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), an aid program for workers hurt by foreign competition.

Democratic Sens. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsSecurity concerns mount ahead of Biden inauguration Trump impeachment collides with Biden's agenda Sanders to wield gavel as gatekeeper for key Biden proposals MORE (Del.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetTop Democrat pushes for tying unemployment insurance to economic conditions 50-50 Senate opens the door to solutions outlasting Trump's moment of violence Build trust in vaccines by investing in community workers MORE (Colo.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenBipartisan group of senators: The election is over Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 How Congress dismissed women's empowerment MORE (N.H.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-GOP senator blasts Hawley's challenge to electoral vote count as 'highly destructive attack' Harrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment McCaskill: 'Hypocrisy' for GOP to target Biden nominee's tweets after Trump MORE (Mo.) declined to say Monday evening how they would vote.

Cantwell told reporters last week she would vote against fast-track because it was not attached to TAA, but her office walked back the comment Monday.

Heitkamp is holding out for a guarantee that the Export-Import Bank will be reauthorized before its charter expires on June 30.

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayHawley pens op-ed to defend decision to object to electoral votes amid pushback Demolition at the Labor Department, too Hawley, Cruz face rising anger, possible censure MORE (Wash.), the fourth-ranking member of the Democratic leadership and one of the leaders of the Senate’s pro-trade Democrats, declined to say how she would vote.

Obama got a boost Monday afternoon, however, when Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: Biden unveils COVID-19 relief plan | Post-holiday surge hits new deadly records | Senate report faults 'broken' system for insulin price hikes Biden plan would up extra unemployment benefit to 0 Report faults 'broken' system for insulin price spikes MORE (D-Ore.) announced he would support fast-track, even untethered from TAA.  

Wyden and other pro-trade Democrats have wavered over the past week because GOP leaders split the legislation after House Democrats defeated TAA in a bid to derail the broader agenda.

In the end, Wyden and other Democrats realized they had gone too far out on a limb to turn back, having voted last month for a trade package that included both.

“The trade package currently before the Senate is a blueprint for trade done right,” Wyden said in a statement. “It will make our country stronger by opening new markets to American products and creating new opportunities for good-paying American jobs.”

Democratic Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperWhite House intervened to weaken EPA guidance on 'forever chemicals' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Capitol in Chaos | Trump's Arctic refuge drilling sale earns just fraction of GOP prediction | EPA finds fuel efficiency dropped, pollution spiked for 2019 vehicles EPA finalizes 'secret science' rule, limiting use of public health research MORE (Del.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonGeorgia Senate races shatter spending records Georgia voters flood polls ahead of crucial Senate contests The Hill's Morning Report - Fearing defeat, Trump claims 'illegal' ballots MORE (Fla.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBottom line Trump vetoes bipartisan driftnet fishing bill Dumping Abraham Lincoln? A word of advice to the 'cancel culture' MORE (Calif.) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael Kaine'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack 7 surprise moments from a tumultuous year in politics Robert E. Lee statue removed from US Capitol MORE (Va.) signaled Monday they will also vote for fast-track.

“I intend to vote for cloture on the Trade Promotion Authority bill because the facts show that expanded trade with the Asia-Pacific region helps California and the country as a whole,” Feinstein said in a statement.

Supporters of fast-track argue that trade supports more than 4.7 million jobs in California.

Treasury Secretary Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewApple just saved billion in tax — but can the tax system be saved? Lobbying World Russian sanctions will boomerang MORE on Sunday described an all-out lobbying offensive by the administration.

“One thing I can say is the president spared no effort on this. He’s talked to more members than I can count, more senators than I can count, and everyone in the Cabinet, including myself, is doing their job to try and get this across the finish line,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. 

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday that Obama would keep up the pressure campaign until the vote.

“I do think the president will be engaged in that effort,” he said.

The Senate’s vote Tuesday to end debate on fast-track — if it gets 60 backers — will set up a final roll call on the measure later in the day or Wednesday.

The chamber would then vote on a package of trade preferences combined with the African Growth and Opportunity Act and TAA. That measure is expected to clear Wednesday or Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump seeks to freeze .4 billion of programs in final week of presidency McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Murkowski blasts Trump's election claims, calls House impeachment appropriate MORE (R-Ky.) predicted Monday that both would make it to Obama’s desk by week’s end.

“Now I know how important it is, particularly for my friends on the other side of the aisle, to get both TPA [trade promotion authority] and TAA done,” McConnell said on the floor. “It’s why I set in motion a process last week — filing cloture on the vehicles for both TPA and TAA so that we get one done followed immediately by the other — that will put both pieces of legislation on the president’s desk before the July 4 [recess].”

McConnell has promised Democrats that a customs and enforcement bill that needs to be reconciled with a version from the House will also make it to Obama for a signature.

Senate Democratic leaders are not whipping against fast-track, leaving it to unions to do the heavy lifting to defeat it.

The AFL-CIO urged Democrats Monday to vote against fast-track and warned they had no guarantee that TAA will pass the House, where many Republicans oppose it.

“Without assurances that TAA will pass the House, or that the customs bill will ever see the president’s desk, considering Fast Track prematurely could compound its expected negative impacts, leaving U.S. workers in the lurch and depriving the U.S. manufacturing sector of vital tools necessary to combat unfair trade,” William Samuel, the union’s director of government affairs, wrote in a letter to senators.

A turning point in his negotiations with pro-trade Democrats came when McConnell offered to add to the mix legislation that would help U.S. companies petition the Commerce Department and International Trade Commission to respond to infractions of trade rules.

The Leveling the Playing Field Act, sponsored by Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownStreamlining the process of prior authorization for medical and surgical procedures Top Democrat pushes for tying unemployment insurance to economic conditions On The Money: Sanders will be gatekeeper for key Biden proposals | Senate majority gives Biden path to student loan forgiveness | Confirmation hearing for Yellen expected next Tuesday MORE (D-Ohio) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTrump calls for 'NO violence' amid concerns of threats around inauguration Security concerns mount ahead of Biden inauguration McConnell won't reprise role as chief Trump defender MORE (R-Ohio), a close ally of McConnell’s, is attached to the package of trade preferences and worker assistance.

“We urged Republican leaders to include Sen. Brown’s trade enforcement bill as a sign of good faith that Republican leaders will do what is necessary to ensure the entire trade package gets done,” Wyden said in his statement, describing his “round-the-clock discussions” with McConnell.

Heritage Action for America urged Republican senators to vote against fast-track Tuesday.

The conservative advocacy group argued that passing fast-track would pave the way for later passage of what it called the “ineffective” TAA program, which is paid for with tax penalties.

“The new pay for — included in H.R. 1295 which the Senate will also consider this week — increases revenue by raising certain tax penalties.  New spending should not be offset by new revenues,” the group wrote in a legislative alert Monday.

Jordan Fabian and Vicki Needham contributed to this article, which was updated to reflect Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) position on June 23 at 9 a.m.