Despite his vow to work around Congress, President Obama huddled Monday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to begin a week of meetings with congressional Democrats on legislative and political priorities where he needs their support.
The Oval Office meeting came just days after Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, announced that he opposes granting the president “fast-track” authority to negotiate pending trade deals in Asia and Europe with minimal input from Congress. Emerging from the White House after the 75-minute meeting, Mr. Reid dismissed a reporter’s assertion that he was in the president’s “doghouse,” and said the two men didn’t talk about trade.
“We’re on the same page with everything,” Mr. Reid told reporters.
The president and Mr. Reid were joined in the closed-door strategy session by Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil. Rather than free trade, they discussed how to keep Republicans from winning control of the Senate in November’s elections, Yahoo News reported.
The White House is eager for passage of a trade bill written by Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, that Mr. Reid and his liberal allies are reluctant to bring to the floor for a vote. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama will “push hard” for trade-promotion authority (TPA) because the pacts would create high-paying jobs in the U.S.
“Securing these trade agreements and increasing exports is key to promoting our economic recovery,” Mr. Carney said.
But three-fourths of House Democrats oppose TPA on the grounds that the free-trade deals would drain jobs from the U.S. and wouldn’t require adequate environmental protections among the other nations joining the agreements. Republican lawmakers who favor free trade say Mr. Obama must show more leadership with his own party if he wants to achieve the deals.
It’s another example of the election-year challenge Mr. Obama is facing. Frustrated by congressional stalemate, the president is promising to take executive action whenever he can toward goals such as reviving the economy and improving education. But on big-picture initiatives such as free trade, comprehensive immigration reform and universal preschool services, he still needs Congress.
The president’s schedule this week in fact resembles a full-court press on Democratic lawmakers. In addition to Monday’s meeting with Mr. Reid, the president is hosting House Democrats at the White House on Tuesday night for a roundtable discussion and a reception. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who enjoys schmoozing with lawmakers more than the president does, also will attend.
And on Wednesday, Mr. Obama will deliver a speech at a Senate Democrats’ issues conference in Washington.
“There’s an important amount of business that can and should be done with and through Congress,” Mr. Carney said. “This is part of a process in which the president and Senate Democrats and House Democrats discuss a way to move forward on an agenda that is focused on expanding opportunity, rewarding hard work and responsibility and the ways that we can do that.
During his State of the Union address last week, Mr. Obama urged lawmakers to give him the needed leverage to close the trade deals.
“We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA,’” Mr. Obama said. “China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we.”
The president’s push for more executive action is angering Republican lawmakers, who say it’s a potential abuse of power.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, pressed Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in a letter released Monday to review the constitutionality of Mr. Obama’s executive actions and to make those reviews public.