President Obama signed hard-fought trade legislation Monday, thanking Republican leaders who helped get it done and saying the package will “reinforce America’s leadership role in the world.”
“I think it’s fair to say that getting these bills through Congress has not been easy,” Mr. Obama said as he signed the trade bills into law in the East Room. “They’ve been declared dead more than once.”
The two major pieces of legislation grant Mr. Obama “fast track” trade-promotion authority, which allows the president to negotiate a deal and submit it to Congress for an up-or-down vote without the chance for amendments, and expand aid for American workers who lose their jobs due to foreign competition. Members of both parties attended the bill-signing ceremony, although Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky did not, with Congress on its Independence Day recess.
The trade-promotion authority measure is arguably the biggest legislative victory of the president’s second term, and will help Mr. Obama conclude negotiations with Japan and 10 other countries on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the centerpiece of his economic agenda. The House and Senate approved both measures last week after House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, temporarily derailed the package.
Progressives fought TPA bitterly, arguing that free trade agreements have led to the loss of good-paying jobs in the U.S.
The president said trade-promotion authority isn’t “the end of the road” for his efforts, noting that negotiations for the massive TPP are still unfinished. Trading partners have been waiting to see whether Congress granted Mr. Obama the authority to negotiate an agreement that won’t be subject to amendments later.
“We still have some tough negotiations that are going to be taking place,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Boehner, who was leading a congressional delegation in Lithuania, said in a statement that TPA “will strengthen the hand of U.S. negotiators, allowing them to secure the best deal for American workers while maintaining new, rigorous standards of transparency and accountability.”
“This bill is a big win for American jobs and leadership, and I hope the president will continue to work with us to get more bipartisan, House-passed jobs bills signed into law,” Mr. Boehner said.
Mr. McConnell, speaking at a Sons of the American Revolution conference in Louisville, said the U.S. will benefit from the trade legislation, and the deal is an example of how partisan divides can be overcome to resolve a major issue.
The president said the trade measure will raise labor and environmental standards, not drain the U.S. of high-paying jobs.
“This legislation will help turn global trade — which can often be a race to the bottom — into a race to the top,” Mr. Obama said. “It will reinforce America’s leadership role in the world — in Asia, and in Europe and beyond. If I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t have fought so hard to get these things done. So this is a good day.”