Obama presses trade case at Capitol

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President Obama visited Capitol Hill on Friday to persuade skeptical Democrats to back his trade agenda ahead of a critical series of votes.

Obama addressed House Democrats at a morning meeting, according to a Democratic aide, just hours before the House is set to vote on fast-track trade authority.


The president entered the room with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and assistant leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.), two of his chief allies in Congress who have not said how they will vote on the trade bills.

Upon leaving the meeting, he greeted reporters but refused to offer a prediction on Friday's vote.

Asked if he has the votes, he said, "I don't think you ever nail anything down around here. It's always moving."

The president’s rare appearance at the Capitol comes as the White House mounts a furious, last-minute push to garner enough votes to advance the legislation. 

The trade bill is expected to get support from a majority of Republicans, who traditionally back free trade. But he needs a handful of Democrats to pass the fast-track bill. 

The outcome has also become complicated by the process in which the bill will be considered.

To get to a vote on the fast-track measure, the House must first approve a separate bill renewing Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which provides aid to workers displaced by trade.

TAA has traditionally garnered more support from Democrats than Republicans, but many in the party are calling for it to be defeated on Friday to kill fast-track.

The program expires at the end of September, and the administration has argued the GOP is unlikely to bring it up for renewal if Democrats vote it down.

Administration officials have knocked anti-free-trade Democrats for opposing TAA, calling it a cynical play to derail the trade package by opposing something they supported in the past. 

The White House circulated a fact sheet Thursday touting the benefits of TAA, which include employment services and job retraining. 

If a fraction of the workers participating in TAA instead left the labor force, it would reduce annual gross domestic product by $5 billion over the next six years, the White House claims.

Fast-track would help the president advance a sweeping Pacific Rim trade pact by preventing Congress from amending it. 

Obama has stepped up his personal involvement in the lobbying push. On Thursday night, he dropped by the Congressional Baseball Game in order to spend some casual time with lawmakers ahead of the big vote.