Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday cast deep doubt on winning approval for President Obama’s trade agenda during his last weeks in office, suggesting that it will be up to the next occupant of the Oval Office to determine the direction of trade policy.
[Paul Kane| July 12, 2016 | Washington Post]
Acknowledging publicly what had become increasingly clear in private, McConnell said that the presidential campaign had produced a political climate that made it virtually impossible to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the “lame duck” session after the November elections.
“The chances are pretty slim that we’d be looking at that this year,” McConnell told reporters at his weekly press briefing.
Both Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, are opposed to the trade deal involving 12 Pacific-rim nations. Trump, abandoning Republican orthodoxy of the past 50 years, has made an anti-trade message a cornerstone of his campaign, stunning party leaders such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who had recently helped write new rules that created a fast-track process for considering TPP and other trade deals.
Clinton, who as secretary of state helped negotiate the Pacific pact and once called it the “gold standard” of deals, abandoned her support for TPP during her tough primary campaign against Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), whose populist campaign regularly excoriated her for previously backing the trade deal. After weeks of withholding his support, Sanders finally endorsed Clinton at an event in Portsmouth, N.H., on Tuesday.
Moreover, the incoming Democratic leader, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), pledged to not allow the trade pact in its current form to come up for a vote if his party wins enough seats in November to make him majority leader next year.
“I think we need to dramatically readdress how we talk about and what we do about trade, OK. It’s not working,” Schumer said, distinguishing his views from Trump’s support for unilateral abandonment of already existing trade pacts. “I don’t support what Trump has suggested, but we need a revamp of that issue. It is not working.”
Trump and Sanders gave prominent voices to the view of many voters in onetime manufacturing plants that their jobs disappeared after trade deals with Mexico, China and other nations with low-wage workers.
Corporate America fought back hard and won passage last year of Trade Promotion Authority by a narrow margin. It was a rare moment of convergence for Obama, McConnell, Ryan and such GOP-friendly organizations as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.
But support for the actual trade deal — which Obama has argued would establish the United States as the lead economic engine of Asia — floundered as the presidential campaign got underway. In an interview with The Washington Post in December, McConnell first warned that he would not bring the TPP to the floor before the election because the political rhetoric at that moment made it doomed for failure.
But industry titans and West Wing advisers continued to hold out hope that McConnell, who has traditionally been very supportive of trade pacts, would work with Obama after the November election to pass TPP once the political climate cooled down.
However, the issue has only been gaining steam among conservative and liberal activists. Both the Democratic and Republican national committees have been drafting party platforms in recent days, and each has had bitter fights over trade.
Supporters of Sanders tried to include language formally opposing the Pacific trade pact, but were narrowly defeated after other Democrats worked behind the scenes to defeat the proposal because it would have embarrassed the president. In Cleveland, where Republicans are expected to nominate Trump next week, conservatives came close to including platform language that would have specifically opposed considering TPP during the lame-duck session.
Instead, Republicans decided to completely remove any mention of the controversial trade deal, which was itself a symbolic step away from the party’s roots. In 2012 the Republican platform formally called for the next GOP president to negotiate the TPP.
In the Capitol Tuesday, McConnell reiterated his past comments that last year’s trade authority legislation was not just for Obama’s presidency and instead would last six years total, including all of the next president’s first term in office.