White House, GOP try to pick up the pieces on trade

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House Republican leaders and the White House are trying to figure out how to rebound from a stunning Friday defeat on the House floor that has left President Obama’s trade agenda in limbo. 

The dramatic loss capped a week of furious lobbying by President Obama and GOP leaders, who for once had found themselves on the same side when it came to fast-track trade authority.

{mosads}They appeared to be on the verge of a major victory on fast-track — and indeed, the controversial measure allowing Obama to send trade deals to Congress for up-or-down votes was approved Friday in a separate 219-211 vote.

But because the House failed to approve a separate measure for workers displaced by trade deals known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), the entire package sunk.

The TAA bill failed in an overwhelming 126-302 vote after House Democrats decided opposing the workers assistance legislation was their best strategy for defeating fast-track, which is mostly opposed by the Democratic conference.

For some trade supporters, it felt as if defeat had been snatched from the jaws of victory, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) and other GOP leaders appeared visibly frustrated by the stunning events.

In the hours after the vote, Republicans sought to blame Democrats for the defeat and expressed hope the minority party would reconsider its position.

The House is expected to vote on the TAA bill against early next week.

“There is still time for them to get this right, and it is my hope that we can get this done as soon as possible,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said.

But it seems unlikely Democrats, under pressure from unions and other liberal groups to defeat fast-track at all costs, will have a change-in-heart. President Obama’s visit to Capitol Hill on Friday to sway his party appeared to swing few if any votes.

“I don’t think it’ll be borne with more Democrats, maybe a few,” said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who voted for both TAA and TPA. “If this is going to pass, it’ll be mostly Republicans.”

In the Senate, members cast a single vote for a trade package that included both fast-track authority and TAA. GOP senators argued the marriage was necessary in order to win Democratic support for the fast-track package.

In the more conservative House, Republicans opted for a different strategy in which separate votes were held for fast-track and for TAA. The idea was to pass the fast-track measure on a mostly Republican vote, and TAA on a mostly Democratic vote.

After their defeat, GOP leaders did not second-guess their strategy. And they scoffed at suggestions from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that the fast-track package be linked to a highway funding measure.

“They’re not going to get it attached to something else. There is one opportunity, and it’s going to be right here, tied to Trade Promotion Authority,” Scalise told a gaggle of reporters in the Speaker’s lobby just off the House floor.

Scalise and others suggested that Democrats will change their minds given the possibility that TAA will expire at the end of September without action by Congress. The program gives support to tens of thousands of workers around the country who have been negatively affected by U.S. trade deals.

“They took a hostage that they might realize now they can’t afford to shoot,” said Scalise.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Democratic leadership who voted for TAA, echoed Scalise’s comment.

“I think if Democrats are facing the reality that with some twists and turns you end up with a trade promotion authority likely to be law and adjustment assistance dead, many of my colleagues will consider changing their votes,” he said.

During the floor debate, however, some Democrats indicated they would rather kill off fast-track even if it would hamper TAA — which some lawmakers complained is a government program that provides training for lower-paid jobs.

Democrat after Democrat speaking on the floor Friday argued fast-track had to be stopped to prevent the outsourcing of more U.S. jobs.

Republicans could still win the trade fight if they can convince their own conference to support TAA.

If the House passes a TAA bill, the entire trade package could still be sent to Obama, with no further action needed by the Senate.

Only 86 Republicans voted for the TAA bill on Friday, however, and the remarks from GOP leaders pinning blame on Democrats suggested they did not think they could win a vote primarily on the backs of their lawmakers.

Many conservatives see TAA as an unnecessary government program that duplicates assistance provided to the unemployed.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) opposition to TAA will make it harder for President Obama and his trade allies to persuade Democrats. Pelosi said that holding firm on TAA now will yield Democrats a more favorable trade package.

“The overwhelming vote today is a clear indication that it’s time for Republicans to sit down with Democrats to negotiate a trade promotion authority bill that is a better deal for the American people,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to Democrats.

Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who has been working closely with House Republicans to whip up support for the trade package, acknowledged that it will be a steep climb without Pelosi on board.

“Obviously, it’s going to be hard to get a TAA bill done without her support,” Kind said.

On the GOP side, conservatives bristled at what they viewed as catering too much to Democrats, which they say ultimately tanked the deal.

“We have been and still are willing to work with our leadership to make this legislation better. Our leadership tried to compromise with Democrats instead of us, and now we know that strategy failed,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

Peter Schroeder and Scott Wong contributed.

Tags Barack Obama fast-track John Boehner Kevin McCarthy Nancy Pelosi Paul Ryan TPA Trade

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