- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

President Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner, rarely on the same page on anything, both took to the airwaves Wednesday to promote free-trade legislation, with undecided House lawmakers in their respective parties.

Mr. Obama conducted interviews at the White House with TV outlets in Texas, California and Seattle, Washington, to pressure wavering Democratic lawmakers in those states. He also did a radio interview saying greater international trade benefits middle-class families, while labor unions and liberal advocacy groups stepped up their campaign to deny president the authority to negotiate his proposed massive free-trade pact with a group of Pacific Rim nations.

The president said China, which is not a party to the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has been reaching out to administration officials about getting in on the deal.

“They’ve already started putting out feelers about the possibilities of them participating at some point,” the president told Kai Ryssdal of “Marketplace.”

Much of the objections from Democrats in Congress to the free-trade deal has been centered on the failure of the U.S. to get tough with currency manipulators, and Beijing is often cited as one of the worst offenders.

Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, took very different approach by urging wary GOP lawmakers to approve trade-promotion authority so that, he said, Congress will have another check on the president’s powers.


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“The way things work now, the president can negotiate a trade agreement on his own, without any direction from Congress,” Mr. Boehner said in a video distributed on email. “Our bill flips the script. Now any agreement will have to meet goals laid out by Congress, and it will have to withstand unprecedented scrutiny. That means more transparency, which means more authority for the American people.”

On Fox News radio, Mr. Boehner said the bill “puts Congress in a stronger position.”

“We’ve got some Republicans who don’t trust the president to do anything and don’t want to give him any authority at all for anything, and I understand their concerns,” Mr. Boehner said. “This isn’t about the president, frankly — it’s about the country. And that’s why, frankly, I’ve worked with the president on a number of trade agreements over the course of his tenure and my tenure as speaker.”

The bill would grant Mr. Obama the authority to negotiate trade agreements which Congress can approve and disapprove, but cannot amend. The “fast-track” power is needed, supporters argue, so other nations in the negotiations can trust the deals the U.S. makes at the bargaining table.

Republicans generally support free trade, but some GOP lawmakers oppose granting Mr. Obama any new powers, arguing that he has exceeded his constitutional authority on issues ranging from immigration amnesty to environmental regulations.

Mr. Boehner said he hopes to bring the trade-promotion bill to the House floor for a vote within the next two weeks.

There are about two dozen undecided Democratic lawmakers, and the White House is counting heavily on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California to bring them around. Mr. Obama has been personally lobbying Mrs. Pelosi, who is concerned about Democrats who vote “yes” being targeted for defeat by labor unions — most of whom ardently oppose TPP — in 2016.

“We do continue to have a lot of confidence in the effectiveness of that relationship,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest of Mrs. Pelosi.

White House officials also said Mr. Obama has been promising Democrats that he’ll campaign for them in 2016 if they face opposition over their trade vote.

“Having somebody with the president’s heft on your side I think is a significant political benefit,” Mr. Earnest said.

Asked if the White House wants Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton to take a stand on the trade bill, Mr. Earnest replied, “She doesn’t have a vote in Congress.”

The president’s sales job comes as he prepares to attend the summit of G-7 nations in Germany beginning on Sunday, with leaders of all those countries watching the battle in Congress closely. Canada and Japan would be part of the TPP; France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy would be included in the proposed “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” that comes next on Mr. Obama’s agenda.

Mr. Earnest said the president and his advisers will “project confidence” at the G-7 about the prospects of getting the trade bill approved in the House.

“We’re not expecting to lose it,” he said.

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