- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2015

House Republicans revived the massive free-trade deal Thursday, linking up with pro-trade Democrats to try to rescue President Obama from the liberal wing of his own party, which embarrassed him on the issue just a week ago.

Moving for a do-over, the House voted 218-208 to grant Mr. Obama stand-alone fast-track negotiating powers, which he’ll need in order to complete a trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim countries.

It was an encouraging first step for the GOP and Mr. Obama, but their path forward is still filled with legislative potholes, any one of which could sidetrack the push for free trade.

“The world is watching us. They’re watching this vote,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who’s become the face of the free trade deal. “They want to know we’re still willing to engage, still willing to lead, that we’re still a nation out front or if we’re a nation in decline.”

Thursday’s vote was to approve Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as fast-track powers, which allow Mr. Obama to work out the details of trade agreements then submit them for an up-or-down vote in Congress without the chance for amendments.

But it’s just one of a series of bills that Mr. Obama says must pass for him to accept the fast-track powers — and Democratic opponents believe they can stop at least one of the other pieces, which would blow up the entire package once again.

The most likely target is Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which is an aid package meant to help workers who lose their jobs due to free trade. It’s generally supported by Democrats, but led by their House leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, most Democrats have vowed to oppose it — essentially taking their own priority hostage — in order to stymy Mr. Obama’s broader trade agenda.

“I don’t see a path right now for TAA,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late Thursday he will attach TAA to a universally popular bill to extend trade preferences for African nations and Haiti, hoping to entice Democrats and Republicans to vote for it. But top black Democrats in the House have objected to that move.

Still, Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said as long as Democrats offer some cooperation, everything can get done and Congress and Mr. Obama can celebrate July 4 with some major legislative victories.

“All it’s going to take is some hard work and some faith in one another,” he said.

White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said Mr. Obama will need to have both TPA and TAA reach his desk for him to accept the fast-track powers.

“The only strategy that we support moving through Congress is one that includes both of those pieces getting to his desk for his signature. I know conversations are still going on about the sequencing of that,” he said.

Still, he was optimistic that what he called “the procedural snafus” from last week’s defeat can be overcome.

The push for trade has angered the wings of both parties — though liberal groups have been far more venomous in their attacks on those they called “turncoat Democrats.”

“We will never forget which House Democrats stood with American working families against Fast Track and who sold them out,” said Jim Dean, head of Democracy for America, a prominent liberal pressure group.

He vowed to try to recruit primary challengers to oust free-trade supporters, and said there won’t be a forgive-and-forget moment anytime soon.

“Make no mistake, we will make certain that your vote to fast track the destruction of American jobs will be remembered and will haunt you for years to come,” Mr. Dean said in a statement.

⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this article.

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

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