President Gets Weekend to Swing Democrats on Trade Deal (Video)
The House will take a second crack at passing Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation early next week, after giving President Barack Obama and pro-trade Democrats the weekend to flip some of the party’s 144 “no’s.”
Republicans say this is Democrats’ last chance to pass TAA, which provides resources for retraining programs for U.S. workers displaced by international trade agreements, and which Democrats have typically supported.
“They took a hostage they might realize now they can’t afford to shoot,” said Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.
Democrats rebelled against this iteration of TAA for a number of reasons, but ultimately it became a strategy for sinking the Trade Promotion Authority bill that would give Obama latitude to negotiate a 12-nation Pacific trade deal.
Even Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she was prepared to vote down TAA to put the brakes on TPA. Her floor statement in opposition to the trade package may have empowered more Democrats to vote “no” than Obama empowered to vote “yes” during his eleventh-hour visit to Capitol Hill.
House members banded together to pass TPA, 219-211, but the action was little more than a show vote — parameters for floor consideration stipulated that TPA could not be advanced out of the chamber without TAA.
If TAA goes down on June 16 as like it did on Friday — the final tally was 126-302 — GOP leaders made it clear they will go ahead and pass a rule to advance TPA legislation on its own, and they won’t bring TAA up again.
“I think they made a mistake, and the bottom line is that TPA is gonna pass,” Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said. “The question is now, will TAA be a part of that? So, there will have to be some serious thinking … and that’s why the speaker gave them that chance.”
House Rejects TAA, Will Vote Again Next Week
Eighty-six Republicans voted for TAA, and GOP whips squeezed that number for all it was worth.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., when asked whether Republicans would be able to help provide the votes to make up for the Democratic shortfall on TAA, didn’t mince words: “That will happen when hell falls in the abyss, I think.”
Franks was a “no” on TAA.
Speaking to reporters after the votes on Friday, members of the pro-trade New Democrat Coalition said they expected cooler heads would prevail Tuesday.
“The number you saw on the board today in support of TAA is a lot lower than what exists in both of our caucuses now,” said New Democrat Coalition Chairman Ron Kind, D-Wis.
There was significant frustration in the House Friday on all sides and in both parties.
Democrats who voted for TAA stopped short of expressing disappointment in Pelosi on the record for not voting on the measure, though they took swipes quietly and passively at those in the caucus who voted “no.”
“The failure of TAA was Congress at its worst,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said in a statement. “Political gamesmanship within our party won out over substance.”
Pelosi Announces Opposition to Trade Legislation
At the same time, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus continued to rail against Obama, whom another Oregon Democrat, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, said “tried to guilt us and then impugn our integrity.”
Chief Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., didn’t mince words in his assessment of House Democratic leaders.
“It’s a question of whether Pelosi and the Democrats want to support their president,” McHenry said. “If they don’t, then Hillary [Rodham] Clinton is going to have to deal with a severely fractured party.”
The vote breakdowns for TAA and TPA represent broad coalitions of lawmakers and strange bedfellows, and expose the extent to which members were torn between political obligations and philosophical principles.
On the TAA vote, 86 mostly moderate, pro-trade Republicans supported the assistance program, along with most of the top GOP leaders and leadership loyalists. At one point, there were at least 93 Republicans voting for TAA. Once it was abundantly clear the bill was going down, a handful of Republicans changed their votes.
On TPA, 54 Republicans — mostly conservatives — opposed. Of that 54, at least 20 are members of the House Freedom Caucus (an exact count is difficult because the HFC has not released an official membership list). Typical conservative hardliners who voted “yes” did so in deference to their agriculture-heavy home districts, such as Reps. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., and Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind. Stutzman is running for Indiana’s open Senate seat next year.
Among Democrats, there was overlap among those who voted for TAA and TPA, though TAA had a better, if still scant, showing.
The 40 Democrats who voted for TAA included fiscally conservative Blue Dogs and moderate New Democrats, plus a few members of leadership: Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and Assistant Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina.
The only House Democrat with a national leadership profile to vote for both TAA and TPA was Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
“The fact of the matter is that I trust this President,” the Florida Democrat said in a statement.
Though many of the 28 Democrats who voted “yes” on TPA had already outed themselves as supporters, there were a few surprises. Political observers weren’t sure where Reps. Terri A. Sewell of Alabama and Beto O’Rourke of Texas would fall; both supported the measure.
Notably, despite trying to make inroads with the membership, Obama was not successful in persuading the majority of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who have been among Obama’s strongest allies during his six years in office.
At an impromptu news conference Friday afternoon, Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., suggested Obama spend the weekend making phone calls.
“The president has some work yet to do with his party to complete this process,” said Ryan, who led the charge to win Republican votes on TPA and who with Mitt Romney tried to oust Obama in 2012. “This isn’t over yet.”
Matt Fuller, Niels Lesniewski and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.