Updated 6:08 p.m. | President Barack Obama’s fast-track trade bill is officially back on track in the Senate, after easily topping the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster and open debate.
The trade bill will face amendment votes next week and possibly continue beyond the Memorial Day recess. The 65-33 vote came after Senate Democrats filibustered the bill Tuesday, spurring a furious salvage operation from the president and Senate leaders . Before moving to the bill Thursday, the Senate passed two other trade measures, including one with currency enforcement measures backed by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., opposed by the White House and likely headed for a spot in Speaker John A. Boehner’s circular file. The Ohio Republican called the idea “almost laughable.” The agreement to move those other bills separately — an idea proposed by Schumer — cleared the way for pro-trade Democrats to climb back onboard the trade bandwagon.
From Schumer’s perspective, Obama was going to get the votes eventually for fast-track, and Schumer and his allies weren’t likely to be able to attach the currency bill to fast-track anyway because fast-track’s backers viewed it as a poison pill. The best option was to at least get currency out of the Senate, something that was far from assured at the beginning of the week.
Every Republican who voted voted to advance fast-track. Democrats were split.
Democrats who backed advancing the bill included Michael Bennet of Colorado, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Chris Coons of Delaware, Dianne Feinstein of California, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Patty Murray of Washington, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Warner of Virginia and Ron Wyden of Oregon.
Carper is the only one who backed the president on Tuesday.
He and nine other Democrats met with Obama after the bill was filibustered. Only Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland of that group remained a “no” vote Thursday. He later issued a statement expressing his disappointment that all of the trade bills, including the currency-related measure, weren’t considered as a package. He previously told CQ Roll Call his worry that the other pieces would simply be left behind if they weren’t attached upfront.
Wyden, the lead Democratic negotiator on the bill and the ranking member of the Finance Committee, said it would improve enforcement of worker protections and environmental protections across the globe, including upgrading enforcement in existing trade pacts such as NAFTA.
But critics like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., warn the fast-track authority could be abused by a future White House and have complained that the White House has kept the trade pact details from the public until after fast-track passes the Senate.
Amendments could still cause trouble on the floor, but even the fiercest trade opponents in the Senate have predicted that chances for defeating the measure are far better in the House.
There, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has put down a marker, suggesting Thursday that Congress pass a three-year expiration for the fast-track authority, rather than a six-year bill many liberal Democrats warn could be used by a Republican president if one wins the 2016 presidential election.
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