Trade notably absent from White House recap of Pelosi-Reid meeting


President Obama sat down with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday to discuss his legislative agenda for the year ahead. 

But one topic was left out of a description of the meeting provided by the White House: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal many Democrats in Congress oppose.

{mosads}The leaders discussed other areas of bipartisan agreement, including criminal justice reform, fighting the opioid epidemic and solving Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. And they talked about “adequately” funding the government in year-end budget talks.

“The president and leaders agreed that there is important business to get done this year,” White House spokeswoman Jen Friedman said in a statement, adding that Obama looks forward “to working with the Democratic leaders in the months ahead to deliver results to the American 

The White House meeting came ahead of congressional Democrats’ annual retreat in Baltimore, where Obama and Vice President Biden, who also attended the discussion, are slated to address party lawmakers. 

The Pacific Rim trade deal is one of the most significant remaining items on Obama’s to-do list for Congress in 2016, but it faces a difficult path to passage. 

Obama believes the 12-nation pact will boost the U.S. economy and counter China’s burgeoning influence in Asia. If Congress approves the deal, it would add a major item to Obama’s list of accomplishments before he leaves office. 

But many Democratic lawmakers oppose the deal, arguing it does not have strong enough labor and environmental protections and will ship American jobs overseas. The top two Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, also oppose the deal. 

Reid, Pelosi and many Democratic members voted against giving Obama trade promotion authority last year, but the measure passed and paved the way for the agreement to be finalized.

The president was forced to rely on Republican votes for that bill, but so far, Obama has not sat down for a formal meeting with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

McConnell has also thrown a wrench into the process, warning the White House not to send the deal to Capitol Hill for a vote before this fall’s elections. Obama’s aides have said there is no reason to delay the vote. 

Supporters of the deal are hoping for a vote before Congress adjourns for its summer recess in July.

Pelosi told reporters earlier this month she planned to carefully study the TPP despite bucking the president on the trade authority measure.

Also not mentioned in the recap of the White House meeting was Obama’s push to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said this weekend he has sent a new proposal to transfer detainees to U.S. soil to Obama, who he expects will submit it to Congress. 

But Republicans, and some Democrats, vehemently oppose housing Guantanamo prisoners in the country. 

Meanwhile, Obama is working to hold together the fragile bipartisan coalition behind an overhaul of the criminal 
justice system.

But growing disagreements among Republican lawmakers could dim hopes for passing legislation during Obama’s final year in office. 

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican and a supporter of the effort, on Tuesday lowered expectations for a vote this year, citing dissension within his party. 

“I am hopeful, but I don’t think it’s critical we do it this year,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I have been involved in a lot of fights around here that have taken us years to get things done. And ultimately the question is, can you get it done at some point.”

The Senate is considering legislation that would effectively reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenders, a move that Obama and his allies say would reduce disparities in the law that disproportionately punish African-Americans. 

But some Republicans, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), a presidential candidate, say the proposal would let dangerous criminals out of jail, posing a threat to cities and states around the country. 

Abuse of opioid-based painkillers and heroin, on the other hand, has attracted an even larger bipartisan response. 

Obama addressed the crisis in his State of the Union address this month. 

 “I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse,” he said. “We just might surprise the cynics again.”

This story was updated at 7:25 p.m.

Tags Bernie Sanders Harry Reid Hillary Clinton John Cornyn Mitch McConnell Ted Cruz

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