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Fresh Optimism for Fast-Track Trade Bill (Updated)

McConnell and the White House hope to revive fast-track trade authority. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
McConnell and the White House hope to revive fast-track trade authority. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 1:09 p.m. | Republican and Democratic leaders say they are close to a deal to revive President Barack Obama’s fast-track trade bill, following a crushing defeat Tuesday. Majority Whip John Cornyn told reporters there could be an announcement soon and possibly a vote in the afternoon.  

The Texas Republican said the GOP and Democrats have been trading ideas on moving forward since Democrats blocked debate Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid also said there may be an announcement coming on a path forward for the trade legislation, confirming that Republicans have made a counter-offer to the proposal from the Democratic leadership.”We’re getting close,” he said.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor earlier Wednesday morning that Republicans were “happy to work with any senator in a serious way,” and that “the door’s open.”

But the Kentucky Republican also said the same deal from Monday is on the table — to advance trade-promotion authority, known as fast track, which speeds up consideration of trade deals with Asia and Europe, and trade adjustment assistance, which gives income support and training to workers displaced by international trade — noting the existing compromise in that Republicans like TPA and Democrats like TAA.

McConnell deferred to Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to see if there was greater compromise.

Republicans were unable to garner enough Democratic support Tuesday to open debate on the two bills, as Democrats pushed for two more: one that would give trade preferences to developing nations, and one that would deter the import of artificially cheap products, which includes controversial language about the enforcement of currency manipulation, which is opposed by the White House.

Democrats were reluctant to trust that the two additional provisions would be considered in what McConnell had promised would be an open amendment process, with Reid saying Tuesday morning the amendment process can’t be started on bills “that aren’t there.”

“They would just be thrown to the wind,” the Nevada Democrat said.

On Tuesday night, Obama met with a group of pro-trade Democrats in a bid to revive TPA. In attendance were Wyden and Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Bill Nelson of Florida, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington and Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, who was the only Democrat to vote in favor of opening debate.

And while the pro-trade delegation met with Obama, another group, led by Reid and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., offered a standalone vote on Schumer’s currency language and then another vote on the rest of the package.

Schumer has said he isn’t trying to kill fast track with the currency measure, and a Wyden aide has said Wyden has the votes to pass fast track if there is a path to passing all four bills out of the Senate.

Ellyn Ferguson and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.


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