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House Democrats Brace for Round Two of Trade Fight

Kind said the centrist group wants a bigger role in helping to shape Democrats' message. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Kind said the centrist group wants a bigger role in helping to shape Democrats' message. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrats who fought unsuccessfully earlier this year to withhold Trade Promotion Authority from the White House are gearing up for round two: an effort to undo the sweeping 12-nation Pacific trade deal announced Monday that TPA authorized the administration to negotiate.  

“The deal … is the result of negotiations between corporate interests and trade representatives, which ignored the voices of working families in all twelve countries,” Progressive Caucus Co-Chairmen Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota declared in a statement. “These negotiations have been conducted in secret by foreign governments and multi-national corporations for the sole benefit of wealthy executives and special interests — to the detriment of American workers, our environment, our food safety and our ability to innovate and advance human development,” Rep. Rick Nolan, another Minnesota Democrat, said.  

In a conference call Monday morning, Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, Paul Tonko of New York, Brad Sherman of California, and Dan Kildee and Debbie Dingell of Michigan each slammed the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership in turn, saying the free-trade agreement would not address currency manipulation, provide adequate labor and environmental protections, or help grow American jobs.  

If these initial statements are any indication, the House Democratic Caucus could be in for another bout of party infighting, with moderates pitted against progressives and a “with us or against us” attitude from the White House.  

New Democrat Coalition Chairman Ron Kind of Wisconsin — one of the 28 Democrats to vote for TPA and an instrumental figure in helping the Republican majority pass the measure President Barack Obama hopes to make his legacy — told CQ Roll Call on Monday afternoon he hoped there would be more civility this time around.  

“I’m hoping, and I’m confident, each member of Congress will do their homework, study the merits of this agreement and not get wrapped up in all the outside commentary,” said Kind, who added he had been in touch with negotiators over the weekend and would later this week be hosting a briefing on Capitol Hill with centrist New Democrats and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.  

Of course, lawmakers are still waiting for the details of the agreement, Kind said. It could also be months before members have to confront the matter directly.  

Legislation passed by Congress earlier this year — TPA, which gave Obama authority to enter into trade pact negotiations — stipulates the president cannot sign the agreement until 90 days after he notifies Congress he intends to sign it. The TPA also requires Obama make the entire text of the agreement available to the public at least 60 days before he signs it. However, the clock doesn’t start ticking until the White House submits the trade agreement to Congress, and the timing of that submission is subject to discussions between congressional leaders and Obama.  

Kind said “the goal is to try to wrap this up late this year or early next year,” but some sources suggested the congressional approval fight could go into the middle of 2016 or even linger through the lame-duck session next fall.  

There are concerns the debates on Capitol Hill could seep out into the presidential campaigns and put the likely Democratic candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an uncomfortable position. In the conference call Monday morning, DeLauro and Kaptur suggested they were eager to see all presidential contenders engage on the issue.  

“Certainly everyone on both sides feels the deeper this goes in 2016,” Kind said, “the nastier the politics become.”  

Matthew Fleming contributed to this report.    


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