Top 10 undecided House members to watch on trade

The White House has joined forces with GOP leaders to furiously lobby undecided members on trade ahead of what could be the biggest congressional vote of the year.

A successful vote on fast-track negotiating power, which could come as soon as Thursday, would represent a huge victory for President Obama. It would let him send the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal to Congress for an up-or-down vote with no amendments.

{mosads}Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who are seeking to win over as many as 200 members of their conference, would also emerge as winners.

Their opponents include labor unions and liberal groups who have pressured Democrats to oppose the president. On the right, conservative pundits ranging from Matt Drudge to Alex Jones have railed against the Congress granting any new authorities to Obama.

The White House and Republican leaders have grown more confident in the last week as the public vote count for fast-track, or trade promotion authority, has risen. Rep. Suzan DelBene (Wash.) on Monday became the 19th House Democrat to publicly back fast-track, according to The Hill’s Whip List.

House votes on fast-track have frequently been nail-biters, however, and this one looks to be no different.

In 2002, a Republican House voted 215-212 to give then-President George W. Bush the authority after more than a year of intense work. With dozens of members saying they are on the fence, neither side can be all that confident.

Here’s a look at 10 lawmakers who could be the difference between passage and failure of fast-track.


Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.)

Black lawmakers are among the White House’s biggest targets on trade, yet only two Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members — Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) — are among the 19 Democratic yes votes.

Sewell and Democratic Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.), Al Green (Texas), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Frederica Wilson (Fla.) are among the undecided CBC members.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker have each made swings through Sewell’s Alabama district, highlighting their desire to move her to “yes.”

Winning over Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), CBC chairman, might be tougher.

“There’s a difference between growing the economy and helping American companies grow the bottom line, and creating jobs,” he told The Hill recently. 


Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas)

Texas is home to a number of undecided votes on trade, and O’Rourke has come under intense pressure from the White House to back fast-track.

The president recently gave an interview with a television station in O’Rourke’s district in which he argued the TPP would create jobs in Texas. It was a move meant to provide some cover for the two-term lawmaker, who like other Democrats is under tremendous pressure to vote no.

Several Texas Democrats, including Reps. Lloyd Doggett, Gene Green and Filemon Vela, are firm “no” votes.

But O’Rourke is hardly alone in the undecided camp.

Other important Texas votes for Obama include Reps. Joaquín Castro and Rubén Hinojosa, who voted to give fast-track to Bush in 2002.


Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) 

It’s doubtful that any Democratic leader in the House will back fast-track, but Hoyer, the minority whip, might be the most likely candidate.

Hoyer has backed trade deals in the past and was the keynote speaker at the pro-trade National Foreign Trade Council’s world trade dinner in 2007.

The top three Democratic leaders in the House have not said how they’ll vote, and liberal groups are raising the pressure. On Tuesday, the groups plan to protest outside Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (Calif.) office in San Francisco.


Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.)

Michigan could be a good state for Ryan and Boehner to win votes in, and Miller is an obvious target.

The seven-term lawmaker is retiring at the end of this Congress, which could make it easier to cast a yes vote.

Michigan’s delegation wants to protect the auto industry from currency manipulation by trading partners. Auto companies like Ford and GM have banded together to push for language that would protect them from imports that get a cost advantage because of a lower home-nation currency. Given Japan’s participation in the TPP, the fast-track vote is particularly sensitive.

Besides Miller, fellow Republican Reps. Dave Trott and Tim Walberg remain undecided.

All five House Democrats from Michigan, along with both Democratic senators from the state, oppose fast-track.


Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) 

Another group of lawmakers Ryan and Boehner need to win over are in the conservative Freedom Caucus.

The two GOP leaders are relying on pro-trade members of the caucus such as Reps. Tom McClintock (Calif.) and Matt Salmon (Ariz.) to make the case.

Meadows, who is leaning yes, is seen as a top vote.

Other Freedom Caucus members could be tougher to get. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is running for the Senate and could face Rep. Patrick Murphy (D), who has announced his opposition.


Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) 

Castro is in a unique spot.

His twin brother, Julián, serves in Obama’s Cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Both brothers are seen as rising stars in the Democratic Party, which could give the two-term lawmaker an incentive to keep his head down in the intraparty fight.

Yet trade plays a significant role in Castro’s home state.

Castro tweeted in April that he was concerned the current fast-track bill would give authority to the president years after Obama leaves office and called for shortening the power’s time span. That hasn’t happened.


Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) 

Peterson is a survivor.

More than a decade ago, in the last big fast-track vote, he was surrounded by conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Most of them have since been defeated, but Peterson remains.

Agriculture is king in his district, and he is the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.

Still, he describes himself as “officially on the fence,” and voted no in 2002.

Peterson says he is concerned about Canadian competition in dairy and poultry. Canada is a member of the TPP, and whether the administration can address his concerns could swing his support.


Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) 

Both of Washington’s Democratic senators backed fast-track — partly because their state is heavily dependent on exports. Smith has not publicly staked out a position, but he has a record of supporting trade deals.

Several other Democrats in the Washington delegation, including DelBene, are backing fast-track.


Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) 

Granger represents an important bloc of GOP votes: Republicans who would normally support a bill like fast-track but are wary of giving Obama more authority to operate independently.

The president’s actions on immigration have complicated matters; Granger wants to increase Congress’s power to change a trade deal submitted by Obama.


Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) 

When it comes to trade, always watch the South.

In an early House vote on fast-track in 2001, it was then-Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) who cast an important vote after he reached a deal with the Bush administration on textiles.

Aderholt helped push the Central America Free Trade Agreement over the finish line in 2005 after winning a deal.

Like other Republicans, he sounds wary of handing Obama the keys on trade. He told the Yellowhammer News in May that he was “skeptical” about trade deals but would take a look at it.

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