White House aides said Monday that President Obama will try to convince U.S. trading partners on his upcoming trip to Asia that he can still win congressional approval for a free-trade deal, despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s vow that the pact is dead for the rest of Mr. Obama’s presidency.
Mr. Obama will make his pitch to rescue the Trans-Pacific Partnership during meetings of the Group of 20 nations in China on Friday, and next week at summits with Asian leaders in Laos, officials said.
“TPP is seen as a litmus test for U.S. leadership,” said White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. “It’s also seen as a demonstration of America’s commitment to be a Pacific power.”
Mr. Obama still hopes to get Congress to approve the 12-nation agreement, which he views as the most important part of his foreign-policy “pivot” to Asia. But Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said last week that the Senate will not consider TPP even in a lame-duck session after the presidential election.
“It can be massaged, changed, worked on during the next administration,” Mr. McConnell told the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation. He previously said the Senate wouldn’t consider the TPP before the election on Nov. 8.
Republican nominee Donald Trump has said he will rip up the agreement and start over. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who favored the deal as secretary of state, now says she’s opposed to it.
Nearly all Democratic lawmakers in Congress oppose TPP, saying such deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement under President Bill Clinton cause the loss of good-paying union jobs in the U.S.
Mr. Obama has staked U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific region on the trade deal, hoping it will serve as a counterbalance to China’s economic power. China is not a party to the pact.
If the U.S. can’t complete the agreement, Mr. Rhodes said, “it would be seen as a significant setback, I think, for American leadership.”
“We would be stepping back from that leadership role, we would be ceding the region to countries like China who do not set the same types of high standards for trade agreements or were we to not follow through with TPP,” he said.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest pointed to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in July that found 55 percent of voters believe free trade with foreign countries is good for the U.S.
“There is a reservoir of support across the country that we can draw from,” he said. “And so the president’s going to make a strong case that we have made progress and that there is a path for us to get this done before the president leaves office.”
Mr. Obama’s trade agenda suffered another blow Sunday, when Germany’s economy minister pronounced dead the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a free-trade deal being negotiated by the U.S. and the European Union.
“The negotiations with the USA have de facto failed because we Europeans did not want to subject ourselves to American demands,” said German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
The U.S. and the EU have been negotiating the TTIP for three years, and the Obama administration had hoped to reach an agreement this year.
The TPP, which includes G-20 nations Mexico, Canada and Australia, would end 18,000 tariffs against U.S. imports, and set new rules for labor and environmental practices. Negotiations on the TPP began in 2008, and agreement was announced in October 2015, but none of the 12 partner nations has ratified it.