- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Republican leaders will try to resurrect the trade deal Democrats sank less than a week ago, planning a revote Thursday and insisting they will corral enough votes to approve fast-track negotiating powers that President Obama needs to complete a legacy-building Pacific Rim agreement.

Mr. Obama met Wednesday afternoon with Democratic lawmakers who support free trade to make sure they will vote for the plan, and House Republican leaders began the process of forcing a revote on powers known as Trade Promotion Authority, which is favored in their party, and Trade Adjustment Assistance, which is generally a Democratic priority.

Democrats last week voted against Trade Adjustment Assistance as a way of poisoning the package, so Republican leaders have decided to split the bill and pass Trade Promotion Authority first, then leave it to Mr. Obama to rally enough Democrats to pass Trade Adjustment Assistance.

“We are committed to ensuring both TPA and TAA get votes in the House and Senate and are sent to the president for signature,” said a joint statement by House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, rejecting claims that the issue was dead.

The plan came together quickly Wednesday. It offers Mr. Obama a chance to recover from the embarrassing defeat Friday when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, led the opposition to Trade Adjustment Assistance, sinking the deal just hours after the president made a trip to the Capitol to plead personally for support.

The White House described the failure as a “procedural snafu” and said Republican leaders’ plan to separate the trade issues could solve the problem.

Democratic senators who support free trade initially demanded that the two be linked. They said they couldn’t support broader negotiating powers for Mr. Obama unless they also secured extended assistance for workers displaced by trade agreements.

The House was expected to follow suit, but both trade issues needed majority support for either to pass. Trade Promotion Authority earned enough votes to pass, 219-212, but Democrats sank their favored Trade Adjustment Assistance to block the package.

Republicans considered regrouping and passing only Trade Promotion Authority, but the White House made clear that it needed both pieces.

“The strategy that the president will back is a strategy that will provide a clear path for both TPA and TAA to come to his desk,” press secretary Josh Earnest said. “There are a variety of ways to do that, but that is something that continues to be discussed.”

Mr. Earnest wouldn’t answer a question about whether Mr. Obama would veto Trade Promotion Authority without TAA, saying, “It won’t come to that.”

A potential roadblock surfaced Wednesday night when Rep. Karen Bass, California Democrat and a key member of the Congressional Black Caucus, objected to the Republican plan to couple the TAA measure with the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a trade package that benefits sub-Saharan African countries.

Republican leaders are hoping to win over Democrats by pairing TAA with the African trade bill. But Ms. Bass and other black lawmakers sent a letter Wednesday to Senate leaders saying they do not support the House Republican plan designed to ease the passage of the president’s trade package.

“AGOA is too important to be used as a bargaining chip to pass unrelated trade legislation,” the lawmakers wrote.

The president wants the fast-track powers so he can complete talks with 11 other countries on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would tear down trade barriers among the nations.

Fast-track powers allow the president to submit the deal for an up-or-down vote with no chance for amendments in the House or Senate. In exchange, Mr. Obama must share details of the negotiations and must stick within the framework Congress has given him.

Opponents fear Mr. Obama will strike a bad deal for American workers and say past trade deals have eroded the middle class.

Mr. Obama counters that as a liberal president, he is looking out for American workers and will strike the most progressive deal possible.

White House aides say they are not counting on Mrs. Pelosi. She was an invited guest Wednesday evening at the White House’s annual congressional picnic, which Mr. Earnest called “a purely social occasion.”

The White House let it be known that Mr. Obama spoke this week with Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell. But the president apparently has not spoken with Mrs. Pelosi since she undermined the trade legislation on which so much of Mr. Obama’s agenda is resting.

Nevertheless, Mr. Earnest said the president and Mrs. Pelosi will work together.
“The strength of their personal and professional relationship is more than enough to withstand a difference over one particular policy issue, even one that’s as important as this one,” he said.

Mr. Obama and Mrs. Pelosi also are scheduled to appear together Friday at a top-dollar Democratic fundraiser in the San Francisco area hosted by Tom Steyer, the billionaire former hedge fund founder and climate change activist.

Asked repeatedly by reporters Wednesday whether the president and his chief congressional ally were speaking to each other, Mr. Earnest suggested they weren’t.

“She doesn’t want the legislation to advance,” he said. “You can assume whatever you like.”

After several more questions about the status of their relationship, Mr. Earnest shut off the line of questioning by saying, “Have we exhausted this, or can I move on?”

At the White House picnic, Mr. Obama didn’t discuss trade but urged lawmakers to stand for America.

“Obviously, democracy can be contentious,” he said. “There are times when people have deep, principled disagreements. But I hope that events like today remind us that ultimately we’re all on the same team, and that’s the American team.”

The president also gave a shoutout to Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, who played in the congressional baseball game last week that Mr. Obama visited to lobby on trade.

“I do want to also say how wildly impressed I was at the quality of baseball when I went out to Nat’s stadium the other day,” he said. “You guys actually looked like you knew what you were doing. Flake, I saw you man, at bat. You were all right.”

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

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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