President Obama made an impassioned plea to House Democrats on Friday to not kill his trade agenda.
In a last-minute, closed-door meeting held hours before scheduled votes on the fast-track package, the president huddled with House Democrats for about a half-hour.
He asked them to back a measure meant to provide aid to workers displaced by trade.
“All he asked Democrats to do is play it straight,” said Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerOverdue progress on costs of trade to workers, firms, farmers and communities Framing our future beyond the climate crisis Reforming marijuana laws before the holidays: A three-pronged approach MORE (D-Ore.), who supports the trade deal.
Opponents of fast-track see defeating the Trade Adjustment Assistance measure as the best way to kill fast track.
Because of the way Friday’s votes have been set up on the floor, if the TAA bill is defeated the House will not vote on the fast-track measure.
Most Democrats back TAA in theory, but those who want to kill fast-track see defeating the TAA bill as their best chance because many Republicans are expected to vote down TAA.
Pro-trade Democrats characterized the president’s message as simple: vote for each bill on its merits, and don’t adopt a broader strategy to block a bill you like to stop one you don’t.
With the vote rapidly approaching, pro-trade Democrats said they had to make up ground to save the package.
Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyHouse Democrats miss chance to help McAuliffe Progressives see infrastructure vote next week Dem hopes for infrastructure vote hit brick wall MORE (D-Va.) said he believed the number of Democrats considering a vote against TAA exceeded the most optimistic numbers that Republicans believed they could deliver to save it.
To win the TAA vote, Obama and GOP leaders will have to depend on the political center. If enough Democrats and Republicans back it, it will pass.
Obama definitely didn't win over every opponent, however.
“I thought he gave a good speech,” said Rep. Gene GreenRaymond (Gene) Eugene GreenBottom line Texas New Members 2019 Two Democrats become first Texas Latinas to serve in Congress MORE (D-Texas). “No, he did not change my mind.”
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), a vocal trade opponent, said she still planned to vote against TAA.
“I will not [support TAA] because I do not want this trade bill to go through,” she said leaving the meeting.
As the president left the meeting, he declined to say whether he had convinced enough Democrats to keep his trade agenda afloat.
“I don't think you ever nail anything down around here. It's always moving,” he told reporters.
Before the meeting, pro-trade Democrats said they were surprised liberal critics of the trade deal would go so far as to kill a program they hold dear in an attempt to block the overall package.
“For weeks, people have been saying there’s no way Democrats would shoot down TAA,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.). “Well, they’re doing it.”
—This story was updated at 11:33 a.m.