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Senate Passes Currency Trade Bill; Boehner Calls It ‘Laughable’ (Updated)

Boehner dismissed a Senate push to enact new currency enforcement trade measures. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Boehner dismissed a Senate push to enact new currency enforcement trade measures. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 2:49 p.m. | The Senate overwhelmingly passed the currency enforcement and customs trade bill Thursday, but it appears headed for oblivion in the House.  

The currency provisions proposed by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., nearly sank President Barack Obama’s trade agenda earlier this week , and now that it remains separate from Obama’s push for Trade Promotion Authority, also known as fast track, it may remain little more than a legislative sideshow.  

“To think that Congress can legislate what currency evaluations are between counties is almost laughable,” Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Thursday morning. The final vote (78 to 20) nevertheless allows senators in both parties a show vote to say they voted to get tough on trade — something that could prove particularly helpful in Rust Belt states figuring prominently in 2016 — before moving on to the main event — fast-track trade authority setting the stage for mega-trade deals with Asia and Europe.  

Two endangered Republicans up in the 2016 in states won by Obama — Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, voted against the currency measure, while most other Republicans facing tough reelection fights voted with the Democrats, all of whom backed the bill.  

The administration has opposed new currency enforcement measures, warning it could imperil trade agreements and undermine the independence of the Federal Reserve.  

Schumer, for his part, told reporters he remains hopeful that the currency bill would still reach Obama’s desk, and suggested to reporters it might be the way to get enough Democratic votes for the president’s fast-track trade bill on the House floor. Prospects there remain uncertain , and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday fast-track authority could give “carte blanche” for the next six years, an ominous quote from the California Democrat.  

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a fierce foe of Obama’s trade push and backer of the currency bill, urged Obama to vow to veto any trade package unless he gets the enforcement bill to sign first. That’s a pitch no one should expect Obama to make.  

Brown has been in the midst of an extended tiff with the president on trade, calling him out for his comments about Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said he expected Brown would apologize, but an apology has not been forthcoming.  

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans started floating the idea that fast track votes might slip until after Memorial Day.

“I had hoped to have it done before the Memorial Day break,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the conference chairman. “I think our leaders had hoped to have it done, but that required a level of cooperation that we didn’t have. …Now, obviously, there’s going to be an open amendment process, and that’ll run us into next week and who knows, maybe into the Memorial Day break and maybe … we don’t get through this until after the break.”

Matt Fuller, Matthew Fleming and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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