Plans to vote Friday on Trade Promotion Authority and Trade Adjustment Assistance could still fall through, but the House is moving ahead on a multi-pronged strategy to send the measures to the president’s desk by the week’s end.
The House on Thursday voted 217-212 on the rule that sets up votes on a bill to give President Barack Obama latitude to negotiate a 12-nation Pacific trade deal and to fund programs to retrain U.S. workers displaced by trade agreements.
Every Democrat voted “no” except for eight pro-trade members of the caucus who want to see the package advance. Meanwhile, every Republican voted “yes” except for 34 conservatives who don’t think Congress should give Obama more authority to do anything.
Leaders on both sides of the aisle expected the vote to be close. A House Democratic aide and an aide for Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., confirmed to CQ Roll Call that Scalise was working with New Democrat Coalition Chairman Ron Kind, D-Wis., to ensure the rule passed. Republicans have been working tirelessly to advance the trade agenda and Kind has been the Democrats’ point person for shepherding Obama’s top legislative priority over the finish line. The two lawmakers could be spotted huddling on the House floor as the vote was taking place.
As they often do, conservatives gathered in the middle of the House chamber. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., was one of the first Republicans on the floor, and he was the first Republican to vote against the bill. Amash was soon joined by fellow House Freedom Caucus leaders Jim Jordan of Ohio and Raul R. Labrador of Idaho.
Slowly but surely, more and more Republicans came to the floor and voted “no.” House GOP leaders frantically worked the floor, particularly Chief Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina. McHenry could be seen almost running around the floor trying to flip members. He was one of the few to be successful in that endeavor.
McHenry found Rep. Rob Wittman on a corner aisle and somehow convinced the Virginia Republican to flip his vote. When McHenry and Wittman finished their conversation, Wittman got up from his seat, walked to the speaker’s dais shaking his head, and eventually took a green card to switch to a yes on the rule.
Other GOP leaders weren’t as successful as McHenry. While Scalise spent a good deal of time sitting with fellow Louisiana Republican John Fleming, Fleming was steadfast in his opposition to the bill.
Most of the GOP “no” votes came from House Freedom Caucus members. Even Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who supports TPA, voted against the rule with fellow HFC colleagues.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., who is also an HFC member supporting TPA, delayed casting a vote, seemingly torn between voting with his fellow conservatives and voting to advance the trade package. Eventually, McHenry grabbed Huelskamp for a little chat, and the Kansas Republican who is often at odds with GOP leadership voted for the rule.
Earlier in the day, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly, 397-32, to extend an African trade agreement and establish broader trade preferences, plus offset TAA through “strengthening Federal tax compliance laws,” thereby nullifying the TAA bill itself language that used sequester cuts to Medicare as the offset.
In a bid to pacify Democrats who didn’t want to vote to for the Medicare language in TAA even though it was counteracted in the preferences bill, House Republican leaders set up a complicated procedural maneuver. There would be three votes: A vote on TAA with the Medicare language, a vote on TAA without the Medicare language, and finally TPA.
The rule would state that, once passed, the Medicare offset provision also would be considered passed, canceling out the need to hold an actual vote on the Medicare language. By voting against the rule, Democrats also could vote against the Medicare language, then vote on TAA without the Medicare language. In this way, TAA would be cleared for the president without having to be sent back to the Senate.
Passage of TPA depends on passage of TAA, and it’s not certain whether Republicans can carry that vote if enough Democrats revolt; unlike TPA, TAA was always going to be a Democratic lift — many Republicans dismiss the program as little more than welfare.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has nearly 76 Democrats committed to voting against TAA on a letter to leadership.
The Democrats who voted “yes” are: Kind, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Henry Cuellar of Texas, John Delaney of Maryland, Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, and Rick Larsen of Washington.
The Republicans who voted “no” are: Amash, Fleming, Jordan, Salmon, Rod Blum of Iowa, Dave Brat of Virginia, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Ken Buck of Colorado, Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Trent Franks of Arizona, Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Chris Gibson of New York, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Morgan Griffith of Virginia, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Andy Harris of Maryland, Jody Hice of Georgia, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, Raul R. Labrador of Idaho, Cynthia M. Lummis of Wyoming, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, Alex Mooney of West Virginia, Gary Palmer of Alabama, Steve Pearce of New Mexico, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Bill Posey of Florida, Keith Rothfus of Pennsylvania, David Schweikert of Arizona, Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, Daniel Webster of Florida and Ted Yoho of Florida.