High drama as trade vote nears

High drama as trade vote nears
© Greg Nash

On the eve of a high-stakes House vote on trade legislation, Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader Scaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' MORE (R-Ohio) said Thursday he’s encouraged by GOP whipping efforts but stopped well short of predicting victory.

“I’m encouraged. We’ve had good discussions this week on a bipartisan basis,” Boehner said at his weekly press conference on Thursday. “We’ve addressed the concerns raised by our members, and frankly by the Democrats.

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“I’m not in the guaranteeing business,” Boehner added. “We’re working hard to get there.”

The House is set to vote Friday on legislation granting President Obama fast-track trade authority.

Approval would be a major victory for Boehner and his leadership team, as well as the White House, given staunch opposition from most Democrats and portions of Boehner’s conference.

The unpredictability of the Republican conference is adding to the drama. During Boehner's reign as Speaker, Republicans have lost some votes on the floor and had to pull legislation at the last minute on several occasions.

With less than 25 Democrats expected to back fast-track, Boehner might need close to 200 members of his conference to support the legislation.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiProgressives call for impeachment inquiry after reported Kavanaugh allegations The promise and peril of offshoring prescription drug pricing Words matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday declined to say whether she will back fast-track. She said she would announce her stance on the House floor tomorrow before the tight vote.

Pelosi has come under intense pressure from liberal groups to announce her opposition to the bill but had kind words for those on both sides of the debate on Thursday, saying there had been “really excellent and impassioned work of people on all sides.”

The Democratic leader has been negotiating with Boehner over the last several days on issues related to a portion of the trade package known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that gives aid to workers hurt by increased trade.

The TAA vote is important, because if it fails it will cause the entire fast-track package to collapse on the floor. The House will be holding separate votes on fast-track and TAA, but both portions need to be approved for the whole package to reach Obama’s desk.

Democrats are expected to provide most of the votes for the TAA bill, meaning defections from that party could endanger the package.

The administration is making a concerted effort to win Democratic votes for TAA. 

 “While I appreciate there are differing views on trade promotion authority, the TAA program has always received strong support because it provides a critical lifeline to workers who need assistance and training to transition to new careers," Labor Secretary Thomas Perez wrote in a letter to members.
 
“This legislation provides the best — and possibly the only — plausible path to achieving a robust extension of TAA.” 
 
Pelosi said she hoped lawmakers would vote on both bills on their own merits but acknowledged the opportunity exists to take down the entire package by voting against TAA.

She also said Democrats still have “one concern” left regarding the bill.

The TAA program does not cover public-sector union members, whom Pelosi said had been covered in legislation proposed, but not approved, by the House in 2009.

More broadly, Pelosi complained that Democrats have been unable to push amendments to alter the trade bills, even as Republicans have included a host of provisions to address concerns of conservative lawmakers.

Granting GOP concessions to please members while blocking Democratic amendments was “making it harder for Democrats to support the bill,” she said.

Boehner dismissed the latest TAA argument as a “red herring,” giving no indication he was interested in addressing it.

He said he had bent over backwards to accommodate Democrats' demands.

“I don't understand where public workers would fall within the Trade Adjustment Assistance in any way, shape or form. And even when this was part of the law, no public sector worker ever qualified for these benefits, and it hasn't been part of the law since 2011,” Boehner said in response to a question from The Hill.

“We've addressed all of the substantive and procedural concerns that she's raised,” he continued. “And I'm hopeful that Democrats will do their part to get this over the line in the next day and half.”

Pelosi and Boehner struck a deal earlier this week to replace a funding offset for TAA that Democrats had opposed. On Wednesday night, they finalized a procedural compromise to seal that agreement.

Pelosi said she was “pleased” to be working with her GOP counterpart but said Boehner had not committed to addressing the public employee concern. Republican leaders have been reluctant to alter the actual text of the fast-track and worker assistance bills, since doing so would require sending them back to the Senate for passage.

“We’re working it,” she said. “We’ll see what happens, probably later in the day.”

Obama has been lobbying hard for the fast track legislation, which would help him finalize a massive 12-nation trade pact, the Trans Pacific Partnership.

— This story was updated at 12:54 p.m.