Politico: Trade pact foes regroup after setback


They experienced the thrill of an unexpected victory, thwarting President Barack Obama’s trade agenda in a dramatic showdown on the House floor.

[Reposted from Politico  |  Lauren French  |  June 18, 2015]

A week later, House Democrats appear to be on the verge of an agonizing defeat.

But facing that sudden reversal of fortune, lawmakers at the center of last week’s insurrection said they’re not done yet — regardless of how confident House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are that they’ve devised an end run around their opposition.

The liberal lawmakers said Thursday they’re already rounding up votes to again thwart Obama’s trade initiative when it returns to the House, which could be as soon as next week.

“I don’t think the pressure has gone away,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a leading House progressive, said. “There are a lot of conversations we have to have over the weekend, but the good news is, as we whipped this week, we found people are solid. They are happy. They went home last weekend and were thanked” for blocking the trade measures.

But it’s unclear how successful these Democrats will be. By separating the main trade authority bill from a companion measure to help workers hurt by free trade, Boehner and McConnell believe they’ve found a winning strategy to deny Democrats the leverage they used last week to stall the trade package. And the leaders are confident Democrats will have no choice but to back the Trade Adjustment Assistance aid bill, which they normally support, if it’s clear the so-called Trade Promotion Authority is a done deal.

Still, these liberal Democrats suggested it’s Republican leaders who are overly optimistic. They said they’d continue to oppose the workers aid bill, which a number of pro-trade Democratic senators, as well as Obama, have said must be part of any trade package to earn their support.

“I don’t see a path right now for TAA,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday. The workers aid program is formally known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA.

Under the GOP plan that program would be tucked into a catch-all bill in the Senate that would include, among other provisions, tools to promote trade with Africa — the thinking being that it would make it that much harder for Democrats to oppose.

The lawmakers opposing trade got a boost ahead of Thursday’s vote when senior black lawmakers released a letter, which has since been signed by 18 members, indicating that they would support any Democrat who voted against the Africa trade package if it included TAA. Before that letter, which was spearheaded by Reps. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Barbara Lee and Karen Bass of California, members were largely concerned that voting against the Africa bill would incur the wrath of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“[The Africa aid bill] is too important to be used as a bargaining chip to pass unrelated trade legislation … It is the centerpiece of relations between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa,” the members wrote.

Still, the Africa bill passed the House by nearly 400 votes, meaning that anti-trade Democrats will need to persuade a large bloc of lawmakers to vote against the legislation, and hope a number of Republicans switch sides, too.

Democrats are also warning that loading up that companion bill could actually backfire.

During a meeting with members of the House Democratic whip team Thursday, Pelosi, who voted against both TAA and fast-track, told fellow lawmakers there’s a risk the Senate bill will become toxic if lawmakers lard it with pet provisions, a source in the room said.

Democratic leaders in the House did not whip the TAA or fast-track votes when it came to the floor last week, so that task fell to members such as Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Pocan, Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.). That group is already planning how to eke out another victory.

Each person on the whip team was given a list with members and told to be in nearly daily contact with Democratic lawmakers ahead of last week’s vote. The marching orders are the same this round: to scuttle TAA, under the belief that Obama wouldn’t sign fast-track legislation without it.

“We’re counting on that the Senate will not approve this without TAA and we’ll regroup and keep fighting,” Dingell said.

The Democrats are getting help from well-funded outside groups that have spent the past two months blasting any lawmaker who supported the deal. Unions have used a scorched-earth strategy to target members who voted last week for TPA, including running ads and pledging to field primary candidates supporters.

Even before the new TPA vote passed in the House on Thursday, union leaders were criticizing Republicans and Obama for failing to work with progressives on changes to the bills.

“Today’s vote in the U.S. House displays the desperate levels that supporters of this terrible trade deal will stoop to, and a complete disregard for America’s workers and their families,” said Marc Perrone, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers. “Instead of addressing the massive failures of past trade agreements, the House and the President have doubled down on a disastrous strategy that will cost jobs, lower wages and worsen already record levels of income inequality.”

The UFCW is one of the largest unions in the nation. The progressive group Democracy for America issued a statement after the vote vowing that liberals would not forget the “turncoat Democrats” who supported fast-track. And the AFL-CIO, which has run ads targeting two Democrats who voted for the legislation, said the fight isn’t over.

“We are at the end of the second quarter and the score is tied 1-1,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said. “We look forward to the third and fourth quarters.”

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