- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2015

The administration and House Republican leaders scrambled Monday to rescue President Obama’s crucial trade deal in Congress, but White House aides acknowledged that a legislative solution was still eluding them.

With the remainder of his presidency riding on a solution to the impasse, Mr. Obama telephoned Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said an alliance of Republican lawmakers and pro-trade Democrats would prevail in a revote on the trade package that failed last week.

“Trade is going forward,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters.

But it wasn’t clear when House leaders would schedule another vote, largely because there was no evidence that Mr. Obama had changed any Democrats’ minds since Friday. After the disastrous loss dealt to him by his own party, the president spent much of the weekend playing golf and hosting a private, A-list concert at the White House featuring Prince.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who turned against Mr. Obama on trade last week, has said more Democrats would vote for the trade package if Republicans committed to passing a long-term highway spending bill.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough spoke with Mrs. Pelosi on the phone Monday, but the White House portrayed the transportation issue as something that lawmakers would need to work out among themselves.

“That’s something that Democrats and Republicans will have to discuss on Capitol Hill,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “We just have to figure out how to untangle the legislative snafu in the House.”

Most Republican lawmakers favor Mr. Obama’s proposed massive free-trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations, but there appears to be little incentive for them to concede to Mrs. Pelosi and her labor allies on transportation.

Mr. McCarthy said he was “disturbed,” “disappointed” and “confused” by Democrats who bucked Mr. Obama last week and spoiled the White House bid for fast-track trade negotiating powers. He said Democratic holdouts will rue their decision not to come to the table.

“If they want something, they ought to engage,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Republican leaders left the door open for a revote, but Mr. Obama will need to flip the votes of dozens of Democrats who defeated a trade assistance measure for displaced workers, 302-126. Many Democrats view the trade package as poisonous to their re-election chances next year because of constituents’ concerns that U.S. jobs are being lost overseas.

The stakes for Mr. Obama’s presidency could hardly be higher, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement designed to be the key to his “pivot” to Asia and a counterweight to China’s influence. Former Obama economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers said the failure of TPP would “neuter” Mr. Obama’s presidency, a characterization that Mr. Earnest didn’t challenge.

“The president’s principal concern is actually not with his own political standing or, frankly, even our relationship with our allies in Asia,” he said. “His principal concerns is the impact that this would have on middle-class families in this country.”

As administration officials sought to get Mr. Obama’s major economic initiative back on track, the White House was also downplaying comments by Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said the president “should listen to and work with his allies in Congress, starting with Nancy Pelosi,” to craft a stronger deal for workers.

“If we don’t get it, there should be no deal,” she said on the presidential campaign trail in Iowa.

A senior administration official told CBS News that Mrs. Clinton was one of the biggest backers of TPP and that the White House was surprised by her comments Sunday.

Publicly, however, Mr. Earnest said Mrs. Clinton’s views “overlap” with the president’s.

“She indicated that her test would be to examine an agreement and determine whether or not it was in the best interests of our national security and to determine whether or not it was in the best interests of American workers,” Mr. Earnest said. “That criteria may sound a little familiar to you because it’s quite similar to the criteria that the president himself has established.

The White House also was on the defensive about a decision not to disclose in advance a concert featuring Prince, saying the president and first lady Michelle Obama wanted to host a private party “in their own home.”

“The president and first lady did host a private event,” Mr. Earnest said. “This is an appropriate thing for the president and the first lady to do.”

He said the Obamas paid for the event themselves.

Prince gave a private performance at the White House for the Obamas and about 500 guests Saturday night to celebrate African-American Music Appreciation Month.

Among the guests were former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.; Education Secretary Arne Duncan; White House National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his date, singer Ciara; and entertainers Jon Bon Jovi, James Taylor, Tyler Perry, Connie Britton and Angela Bassett.

Prince was in Washington to play two shows Sunday at the Warner Theatre.

The White House didn’t reveal anything about the event, which was not on Mr. Obama’s public schedule. The concert took place after Mr. Obama spent more than five hours Saturday playing golf with friends.

The party was revealed afterward by guests such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, who tweeted, “Leaving the White House party w/POTUS and FLOTUS. Awesome to see Prince and Stevie Wonder on keyboards together. Unbelievable experience.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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