The House on Tuesday bought itself another month and a half to pass fast-track trade negotiating powers for President Obama — though it remains unclear whether the White House will be able to sway enough votes for it to matter.
Powered chiefly by Republicans, the House voted 236-199 to extend until the end of July the chance to hold a do-over on last week’s key trade vote, which saw Democrats desert Mr. Obama, their party leader, dooming his trade agenda.
The White House will need to sway up to 90 votes on the issue, and has made little headway. Press secretary Josh Earnest said Mr. Obama hasn’t even spoken with House Democrats’ leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, since Friday’s vote — though he has spoken twice with House Speaker John A. Boehner.
“I want trade promotion authority finished as soon as we can get it finished, and we’re looking for a way forward. When we find one, we’ll let you know,” Mr. Boehner said.
The House mustered enough votes to pass the fast-track powers last week, but fell far short of the votes needed to pass a package of assistance for workers displaced by free trade. Under the rules of debate, both had to clear, or else they would both fail.
House rules require that a revote happen within two legislative days, but Tuesday’s action grants a new six-week grace period for the do-over.
Mr. Boehner said there are several options, including trying to separate the worker-assistance bill and the fast-track powers, so that one could pass without being attached to the other.
Mr. Obama wants the fast-track powers so he can complete negotiations with 11 Pacific Rim countries on a massive free-trade agreement. Most Democrats oppose that agreement, and calculated that defeating the worker assistance — something they’ve overwhelmingly supported in the past — would doom the Pacific deal.
Mr. Obama dispatched senior advisers to Capitol Hill Tuesday for meetings with Republican and Democratic lawmakers on trade, but no breakthroughs were reported.
Mr. Earnest said the president will continue to insist that expanded trade adjustment assistance, which is set to expire at the end of September, be included in any new trade package. The White House proposal would provide up to $450 million per year for six years for workers who lose their jobs due to foreign competition, enough for 100,000 workers per year.
“The president is motivated by the need to ensure that we’re protecting American workers as much as we can from the broader forces of globalization,” Mr. Earnest said.
Mr. Earnest said the strategy works, arguing that nearly 77 percent of workers who received the aid in fiscal 2014 found jobs within six months of completing the training program. Six months later, he said, 90 percent of those workers still held the same jobs.