Skip to content

Democrats Filibuster Obama’s Fast-Track Trade Bill (Updated) (Video)

Wyden, left, earlier shepherded fast-track through committee, but balked at advancing it on the floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Wyden, left, earlier shepherded fast-track through committee, but balked at advancing it on the floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 5:49 p.m. | The Senate blocked President Barack Obama’s top trade priority Tuesday, with the president’s own party abandoning him en masse. Many Democrats insisted that several issues be bundled into the so-called fast-track trade authority bill, including a currency-related bill, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., balked, only agreeing to votes on amendments instead.  

The 52-45 vote fell well short of the 60 votes needed, with only one Democrat, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, voting with the president. McConnell voted no to allow himself to reconsider the vote.  

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest preemptively called the defeat a “procedural SNAFU” and said the president will continue to try and push the bill through the Senate. But it marks a huge setback for Obama, who has made a concerted and relatively rare, personal lobbying effort to push the trade deal over the finish line. He’s also sharply criticized opponents of the deal in his own party, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in particular, who have ripped him for hiding the details of trade agreements from the public until after he gets fast-track authority.  

Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat who shepherded fast-track through the Finance Committee, earlier tweeted he would vote “no” unless the bills move forward together. After the vote, he said 14 Democrats wanted to work with Republicans to find a way forward.  

A Wyden aide said Tuesday that the pro-trade Democrats are prepared to advance fast-track if Republicans agree to a process that would lead to all four trade bills passing the Senate.  

The White House opposes attaching currency enforcement measures, worrying they could imperil the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement with Asian countries and potentially imperil the independence of the Federal Reserve.  

Earnest said existing policy has already succeeded in getting China and Japan to begin “to level the playing field” on their currencies, noting China’s currency has appreciated 30 percent against the dollar since 2010.  

However, critics of the administration have noted that the administration has repeatedly certified that China and other countries are not manipulating their currency in semi-annual reports on the issue.  

Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., warned Democrats wanted all four bills in the trade package and questioned how “robust” the amendment process would be.  

Many Democrats want ironclad assurances that the currency and other provisions will become law, not just have a chance to lose on the Senate floor.  

Unless they are included in the bill — or Obama vows not to sign it until they are all on his desk — it’s hard to see that happening.  

McConnell after the vote said no senator can guarantee that a provision will become law. He said he was prepared to promise “a fair shake” on amendments on the Senate floor.  

Reid, who earlier said he was a “hell no” on fast track , said McConnell should look “in the mirror” to find who is at fault for the bill not moving forward. He said it didn’t make sense that McConnell wasn’t including all four trade measures in the package that passed out of the Finance Committee coming to the floor together.  

But McConnell said adding currency to the fast-track bill would kill the fast-track bill. “The president wouldn’t sign it,” he said. “The president would veto the bill.”  

He said he’d offer to have a separate vote on a separate currency bill on the floor.  

That could be enough to get Wyden and company on board, but as always, the devil is in the details.  

McConnell quoted Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., in committee, saying he didn’t offer the currency amendment to fast-track because he didn’t want to kill fast-track.  

Schumer Tuesday reiterated he didn’t want to use currency to kill fast track and suggested Republicans could agree to move the bills separately.  

Earnest also said that the White House wasn’t particularly upset at former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for not weighing in to support the bill.  

He noted she has a campaign to run.  

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

White House Brushes Off Fast-Track Failure as ‘SNAFU’

Senate Democrats Put Conditions on Fast-Track Vote

Harry Reid is a ‘Hell No’ on Fast-Track

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.