Reid says Dems will block trade bill

Reid says Dems will block trade bill
© Greg Nash

Democrats will block “fast-track” trade legislation until the Senate first passes bills addressing infrastructure and surveillance programs, according to Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidKamala Harris to young Black women at conference: 'I want you to be ambitious' Obama calls filibuster 'Jim Crow relic,' backs new Voting Rights Act bill McConnell warns Democrats not to change filibuster rule MORE (D-Nev.).

Reid told The Huffington Post Monday that he will not “lay over and play dead” on controversial trade legislation, and instead will push for the Senate to pass his preferred bills on the two matters. And if Republicans balk, he is confident Democrats will unite to halt the trade bill — which also happens to be a top priority of President Obama.

“We have two very complicated issues that I think should have strong consideration before we even deal with trade,” he said. “I'm not willing to lay over and play dead on trade.”

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The trade bill in question would grant “fast-track” authority to the White House for negotiating trade bills. Under the bill, Congress would not be allowed to amend trade deals negotiated by presidential administrations but only to vote on the final agreement.

Liberal Democrats and labor unions are working fiercely to kill the bill, which the White House says is critical to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal with a host of other nations.

Reid, who has described himself as a “hell no” on the bill, first wants to see Congress pass legislation making reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is due to expire on June 1. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellNegotiators remain far apart on coronavirus deal as deadline looms States begin removing Capitol's Confederate statues on their own Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal MORE (R-Ky.) has favored a straight five-year extension of the existing program.

Reid also wants to see Congress pass a highway funding bill before even talking about trade, as the current funding measure expires May 31.

The Senate was widely seen as the easier path for trade legislation, as it is unclear whether there are votes in the House to pass the bill. But Reid’s public vow to hold up the bill could throw the measure into doubt in the upper chamber as well.

“McConnell said he wanted to move to trade in the next two or three weeks, and I'm going to — maybe he can, but I don't think he's going to have an easy time doing it, because I will not let him do that. We're not going to lay over, as I said, until we have some way to move forward on FISA and the surface transportation bill,” said Reid. “He has some decisions to make and he's going to have to work around me and the caucus.”

The Nevada Democrat's latest comments suggest he is digging in further on trade than previously indicated. In April, Reid reiterated his opposition to the agreement but said he wouldn’t be “single-handedly trying to defeat it.”

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns Tensions flare as GOP's Biden probe ramps up  Frustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal MORE (D-Ore.) the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which helped craft the trade bill, responded to Reid’s comments Monday by saying he hoped the Senate could still move quickly.

“Obviously, Mitch McConnell and the president very much want to do it this work period,” he told reporters. “Export jobs pay better than do nonexport jobs. There are going to be a billion new customers in the developing world in 2025.”

He said Reid had been “very straight with me,” despite their differing views on the bill.

— Julian Hattem contributed to this story.