White House Pushes For Fast-Track Trade Authority
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
A major Asia-Pacific trade agreement is among the things President Obama would like to achieve in his last two years in office. U.S. and Japanese negotiators have been in Tokyo working on the deal for several days. And they report progress. Still, President Obama faces stiff opposition at home from fellow Democrats. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley to walk us through the ABCs of trade politics.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Before he can pass the TPP, Obama needs Congress to OK the TPA. The GOP says A-OK, but many Democrats say no way. That's why the president's turning to MSNBC. Got that? The TPP is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade pact covering a dozen countries around the Pacific Rim. Supporters want Congress to fast-track the deal by passing Trade Promotion Authority or TPA. That would allow the president to finalize the deal and present it to lawmakers for an up or down vote. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the administration's making a big push for fast track authority. That includes a primetime interview tonight with MSNBC's Chris Matthews.
JOSH EARNEST: We're going to win over as many Democrats and Republicans as we can. And this is going to have to be a genuine bipartisan effort.
HORSLEY: The trade push has scrambled the usual political alignment in Washington, putting the president at odds with many of his usual allies in organized labor. Here's Steelworkers president Leo Gerard speaking to union members at a rally outside the Capitol last week.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNION RALLY)
LEO GERARD: In order to win fast track, they've got to pull at least a couple of dozen Democrats so that they're voting for fast track. You make sure you tell them if they vote wrong, we've got a memory.
HORSLEY: President Obama acknowledges many Democrats are skeptical of trade deals, having been burned by lost jobs in the past. But he insists he wouldn't be promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership if he didn't believe it would help workers as well as big business.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I didn't get elected because of the sponsorship of the Business Roundtable or the Chamber of Commerce. Those aren't the ones who brung me to the dance.
HORSLEY: The Senate Finance Committee, which is considering the fast track bill, hears today from leaders of both the Chamber Commerce and the AFL-CIO. Michigan congressman Sander Levin is the top Democrat on the House committee weighing fast-track authority. He's not sold by the president's personal assurances.
REPRESENTATIVE SANDER LEVIN: It's a matter of words within a trade agreement and the implementation of those words, specifically.
HORSLEY: Levin says the fast-track bill doesn't do enough to protect workers' rights, prevent currency manipulation or guarantee access to Asian auto markets. Republican House Speaker John Boehner suggests Obama needs support from around 50 Democrats in the House. And so far, the president appears well short of that. Unless the White House sales effort is able to turn that around, TPA and perhaps the TPP itself could be DOA. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.