More Dem votes key to trade deal’s passage

The White House will likely need to pick up additional Democratic votes for a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade deal despite Hillary Clinton’s opposition to the agreement.

Just 28 House Democrats voted earlier this year to give President Obama expanded power to ease passage of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which has come under fire from liberals who say it would undermine public safety and hurt American workers.

{mosads}But facing likely defections from Republicans who backed “fast-track” authority for Obama, the president must now look for additional votes within his own party.

The White House is mobilizing its forces, from Obama to Vice President Biden on down through the entire Cabinet, which has been tasked to take a “whole government” approach to mining votes from a stubborn Democratic conference while holding onto support from Republicans who’ve previously supported Obama’s trade agenda.

But the effort involves wading into presidential politics and a tumultuous Republican leadership race in the House, both of which complicate the drive for the 218 votes the president needs to notch another major policy victory before leaving office. 

The margin of error is razor-thin: exactly 218 House members voted in June to give Obama fast-track power.

Chief among the obstacles standing in the way of that goal is opposition from Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nod in the 2016 race for the White House.

The former secretary of State came out last week against the deal, saying that from what she has learned she will oppose the agreement. The announcement came as a blow to the White House’s all-hands-on-deck sales pitch to Congress. 

Clinton’s decision will cause more lawmakers to pause and take a closer look at the deal, argued Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee who opposed fast-track. 

“Clearly, if she has reservations about it they will want to look at it and do their due diligence to make sure that they’re not missing what she’s seeing,” Sánchez told The Hill.

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), another member of Ways and Means who opposed fast-track, said Clinton’s decision to oppose the TPP is “huge” and that it could easily sway House Democrats still weighing their support for the agreement. 

He argued that her “position does matter” because, as secretary of State, Clinton took part in the early TPP negotiations, and she is now opposing a deal she once backed. 

Pro-trade Democrats were critical of Clinton jumping out ahead of the release of the final text of the historic deal, arguing that she should at least drill into the details before taking a stance. 

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who supports Clinton’s presidential aspirations, said he was “disappointed that she felt the need to come out that way without seeing the actual final product.” 

But he downplayed her influence on House Democrats, saying Clinton’s opposition merely “reinforces those who are inclined to vote no anyhow.” 

“There aren’t a lot of people sitting on the fence about this,” he said. “I think the battle lines are pretty well drawn, and the changes are going to be marginal on our side.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a close ally of GOP leadership who supported fast-track, criticized Clinton’s move as politically “calculated” and said it is one that intensifies the pressure on individual members, especially those in the president’s own party. 

“He [the president] better get a lot more of his friends than he was able to get last time because I have no belief that we can produce the kind of numbers that we did to actually get this [fast-track] across the floor,” he said. 

Among the biggest concerns in the House is losing Republican votes because of tobacco provisions inserted into the final TPP deal that excludes products like cigarettes from legal protections afforded to other sectors of the agriculture industry.

Another potential hurdle to 218 in the House is the concern over the length of patent protections for high-level biologic medications.  

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman called the negotiation over biologics one of the most difficult if not “the hardest” issue of the talks because it is so politically sensitive across several of the TPP nations. 

Faced with the prospect of losing some Republicans who voted for the fast-track measure, the White House is intensifying its arguments to Congress that the deal includes enforceable labor and environmental provisions, the elimination of manufacturing tariffs and much improved market access for U.S. agriculture.

Connolly said that there are some Democrats who said at the time of the vote earlier this summer that they couldn’t vote for fast-track but they might be open to voting for the TPP. 

“So let’s find out if those people exist and what they need by way of information or persuasion to support it,” the Virginia Democrat told The Hill.

From there, the White House will need to hold onto to as many as the 190 Republicans who supported fast-track while seeking out possible supporters among the 50 who opposed fast-track for various reasons. 

Supporters recognize that final approval of the TPP rests largely on Republican votes, supplemented with a critical mass of Democrats.

Cole highlighted the rough relationship between Obama and the GOP conference and the reality that “he’s going to need us to do this.” 

“Nobody on our side of the aisle particularly feels like they owe him a great deal right now,” he said. 

“He maybe needs to think that if he wants to pass this he may need to tone down the rhetoric and understand this vote is going to be difficult for everybody,” Cole said.

Then there’s Biden. The vice president has said that he supports the TPP and wants to work to pass it on Capitol Hill, but he could wind up outside the lobbying effort if he decides to enter the presidential race himself.

Biden has been a behind-the scenes asset to the administration on trade, helping to deliver the final TPP deal reached last week in Atlanta by keeping up a regular dialogue with several top leaders including Japan’s prime minister, Shinzō Abe. 

If Biden opts out of the 2016 race and is fully immersed in the debate, his strong voice and sway with congressional Democrats — and good relationship with labor unions — could propel the deal’s passage for the president. 

Connolly agreed that time is ticking loudly on the 2016 political clock. 

“There are a lot of us who put our necks on the line who don’t want this to be front and center in our campaigns if we can help it,” he said. 

For Connolly that means a vote no later than the Easter recess, and even that is “kinda pushing it.”

Tags Gerry Connolly Hillary Clinton Michael Froman

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video