Politico: Liberals: Great speech, Obama … except on trade

The president’s push for trade deals is ‘No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4’ on the list of what House Democrats disliked about the State of the Union, Rep. Peter DeFazio said.

[Reposted from Politico  |  Lauren French  |  January 20, 2015]

House Democrats have long been wary of the trade proposals the White House had strongly suggested would be unveiled in the State of the Union address. They argue that middle-class jobs are at risk of being exported by businesses seeking the cheaper labor markets that would open up if the U.S. signed a trade deal with Asian-Pacific countries.

And progressive lawmakers are further skeptical of passing the so-called “trade promotion authority” legislation Obama called for, a fast-track measure that would force Congress to hold swift up-or-down votes on trade deals he negotiates. The measures would also prohibit lawmakers from attaching amendments to any trade deals.

“I was looking for the president to explain to me why this is going to be different than the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994,” said Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the chair of the House’s progressive caucus. “I don’t want to dwell on the negative — 95 percent of what the president said, I loved it. Loved it. But on the trade stuff I’m not convinced.”
Obama argued Tuesday night that passing the trade authority would allow the U.S. to negotiate “strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.”

“Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense,” he said. “But 95 percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities.”

On Wednesday, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) will hold a news conference highlighting the lack of support for trade promotion authority among Democrats.

Despite the trade proposals, liberal Democrats said Obama had delivered a commanding speech that outlined a progressive vision.
“Maybe his best speech,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

“I like the tone of what he was doing. He had his game face on. He’s tried to be moderate with [Republicans] and work with them and have them up to the House. It didn’t work,” said Washington Rep. Jim McDermott. “It was time for him to say this is what the country needs.”

And Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren hailed Obama’s promise to veto any rollback of Wall Street reforms, as well as his calls for student-debt relief, paid sick time and family leave, and investments in medical and scientific research.

“President Obama said it right: ‘This country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules,’” said Warren, who has emerged as a hero to progressive Democrats.

Rep. Steve Israel of New York added, “There were three things I liked about it: middle class, middle class middle class.”

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown gave the president high praise for changing “the debate on tax reform.”

“You look at any history of the last two years – what he said about middle-class economics, that’s how you grow the economy,” Brown said. He added: “I think he changed the debate on tax reform. For two years, all you heard was you gotta cut the corporate tax rate.”

But when asked about Obama’s trade talk, Brown said, “I didn’t like it.” Though trade made up only a small portion of the speech, he added, “He talked about it enough.”

Manu Raju and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

 

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