U.S. Senate Democrats delivered a major blow to President Barack Obama’s trade agenda on Tuesday, blocking debate on a bill that would have smoothed the path for a Pacific trade pact.
The stunning outcome cast doubt on legislation that is key to the Obama administration’s ability to complete the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, a central plank of its pivot to Asia.
“What we just saw here is pretty shocking,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, after the Senate voted 52-45 – short of the 60 votes needed – to pave the way for debate on “fast-track” trade authority for Obama.
The vote marked a victory for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, an outspoken opponent of fast-track, after weeks of speculation that the toughest fight would be in the House of Representatives and not the Senate.
Under fast track, Congress can either approve or reject trade deals negotiated by the administration but not amend deals like the TPP, a potential legacy-defining achievement for Obama.
The failure to garner the necessary votes came after pro-trade Democrats, including Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, insisted that fast track be bundled together with three other trade bills, including one that would impose import duties on countries that manipulate their currencies for unfair trade advantage.
The White House strongly opposes the measure. A source familiar with negotiations in the Senate said one option would be to bundle the four bills together but take out the currency provision. That could be voted on separately, said the source, who asked not to be identified and stressed talks were continuing.
Democrats have also complained that the trade promotion authority (TPA) measure falls short on labor and environmental protections.
As Democratic support for the measure melted away, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Republican who was a major force for fast track, declared to reporters that the measure “may be dead.”
But following the vote, Democrats predicted it would come back.
“I don’t think today’s vote is a death knell for TPA, but it is a very strong warning shot to the majority leader … that without worker protections, without enforcement provisions, they will likely not move forward,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons told reporters.
Negotiations on the TPP are nearly complete, but trading partners have said they want to see fast-track legislation enacted before finalizing the pact, which will stretch from Japan to Chile.
The TPP would create a free trade zone covering 40 percent of the world economy – making it the biggest trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement liberalized trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
More than two decades later, that pact is blamed by many on the left for factory closures and job losses and has soured sentiment toward the TPP.
Now, McConnell faces the tough choice of possibly bending to Democrats’ demands and in so doing, losing Republican votes in the Senate and House.
Wyden said the four bills together were a package that would “throw out the 1990s NAFTA playbook on trade” and provided an opportunity to create jobs.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest played down the day’s developments as a “procedural snafu” and said the White House would continue to work to push the legislation forward.
Only one Democrat, Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, backed the measure, despite a White House campaign blitz to win Democratic support.
Senate Republicans stuck together in voting to let the bill pass its first test. However, McConnell at the last minute switched his vote to “no” in a procedural move that lets him bring the bill to a vote again in the future.
Failure sends a worrying signal about the level of support for fast track, which is opposed by unions, environmental and consumer groups but backed by businesses, which reacted with disappointment.
“Today, a minority in the Senate failed American workers and the more than 14,000 manufacturers … who need our nation to keep its mantle of economic leadership,” National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons said.
Although the administration points to research saying export-related jobs pay up to 18 percent more than other jobs, other studies show that increased competition from imports has cut wages and caused job losses in U.S. manufacturing.
(Reporting by Krista Hughes and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)
BUSTED: National Archives caught doctoring exhibit to remove criticism of President Trump from women
The National Archives were caught editing an artifact from the Trump administration to remove criticism of the president, according to a bombshell new report in The Washington Post.
The newspaper reported on a "large color photograph" at the National Archives exhibit marking the centennial of women's suffrage.
"The 49-by-69-inch photograph is a powerful display. Viewed from one perspective, it shows the 2017 march. Viewed from another angle, it shifts to show a 1913 black-and-white image of a women’s suffrage march also on Pennsylvania Avenue. The display links momentous demonstrations for women’s rights more than a century apart on the same stretch of pavement. But a closer look reveals a different story," the newspaper noted.
Dershowitz is running a ‘bizarro defense’ of Trump: Harvard Law colleague says ‘Alan is just completely wacko’
Two of the most famous names associated with Harvard Law School had competing appearances on MSNBC on Friday.
It began when Alan Dershowitz, a professor emeritus, was interviewed MSNBC chief legal correspondent Ari Melber about his new role officially representing President Donald Trump during the Senate impeachment trial.
Dershowitz claimed that neither abuse of power nor obstruction of Congress count as "high crimes" under the constitution.
Professor Alan Dershowitz, who has also been associated with Harvard Law for five decades, was asked about Dershowitz's argument during an interview with Chris Hayes.
Why was Lev Parnas wearing a ‘Presidential Service Badge’ awarded to troops who serve in the White House?
Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman posted a fascinating update about a photo of impeachment figure Lev Parnas.
The photo shows Igor Fruman -- who, like Parnas, is under federal indictment -- sitting closely next to Rudy Giuliani and Parnas.
Haber said a source informed her that in the picture, Parnas can be seen wearing a "Presidential Service Badge," linking to the Wikipedia entry on the pin.
"The Presidential Service Badge (PSB) is an identification badge of the United States Armed Forces which is awarded to members of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard as well as other members of the Uniformed Services, such as the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, who serve as full-time military staff to the President of the United States," Wikipedia explained.