Obama 'cautiously optimistic' on TPP trade deal

President Obama said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Congress will pass his signature Pacific Rim trade deal, but he acknowledged opposition in both parties and election-year politics could stall the pact. 

“I am cautiously optimistic that we can still get it done,” Obama told a gathering of the National Governors Association at the White House. 

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Facing opposition from labor unions and Democratic leaders in Congress, the president said he would rely on a coalition of pro-trade Democrats and Republicans in Congress to advance the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

“Labor unions — and I am a big labor guy — they are not happy with me on this,” Obama said. 

The president said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPoll shows Collins displaces McConnell as most unpopular senator Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti on impeachment: 'CNN can see through this nonsense' Trump says impeachment trial should move 'very quickly' MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanEsper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Latinos say they didn't benefit from Trump tax cuts — here's why Conservative commentator rips Trump's signature tax overhaul: 'It was a big mistake' MORE (R-Wis.) “have been supportive of this trade deal” though they have “concerns along the margins.”

Obama said he would send the agreement to Congress for a vote “at some point this year,” but did not indicate a specific date. 

If Congress does ratify the agreement, it would be a major legacy-defining accomplishment for Obama. 

The massive trade deal comprises 40 percent of the world economy and it would be a significant step toward achieving his administration’s pivot toward Asia.

But the agreement faces staunch opposition both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. 

McConnell has warned Obama not to send the agreement to Congress for a vote before November’s election. He also has concerns about language in the deal pertaining to tobacco products, a major export from his home state. 

Obama acknowledged those differences with McConnell, with whom he met earlier in February. 

Ryan dealt a blow to the sweeping trade deal two weeks ago, saying it does not yet have enough votes to pass the House. 

The 2016 presidential campaign has also scrambled the politics of trade. While Republicans are traditionally supportive of free trade, the party’s presidential frontrunner, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Saudi Arabia paid 0 million for cost of US troops in area Parnas claims ex-Trump attorney visited him in jail, asked him to sacrifice himself for president MORE, has slammed Obama’s trade agenda. 

Both Democratic candidates, former secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFormer Vermont Governor: Sanders 'will play dirty' NYT: Justice investigating alleged Comey leak of years-old classified info New Hampshire state lawmaker switches support from Warren to Klobuchar MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersEx-Obama official on Sanders-Warren feud: 'I don't think it played out well for either of them' Former Vermont Governor: Sanders 'will play dirty' Hill.TV's Krystal Ball rips Warren over feud with Sanders MORE (I-Vt.), oppose the deal.

“The presidential campaigns have created some noise and roiled things a little bit within the Republican Party and in the Democratic Party around this issue,” Obama said.  

The president offered a lengthy defense of the deal, saying “it is indisputable” American workers and businesses “will be better off than the existing trade regime” by cutting tariffs and boosting American exports in the rapidly expanding Asia-Pacific region. 

“Our concern there was that China was the 800-pound gorilla and if we allowed them to set trade rules out there, American business and American workers were going to be cut out,” Obama said. 

But if the United States set the standards, “then it would be an improvement for American businesses and American workers and we would know we would be able to compete in those areas for years to come.”