Democrats in Congress are in open warfare with President Barack Obama over his pitch for fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals, but conservative dissenters are conducting their fight quietly behind closed doors — even though they may be the key to approving the deal.
[Reposted from Politico | Victoria Guida | May 26, 2015]
So far, about 40 to 45 of the 245 House Republicans, most of them in the far-right wing, are hard “nos” on a bill their own party leaders support as fervently as Obama, according to the independent assessments of three House aides. If they are able to boost their numbers by even a handful of votes, it would imperil the legislation, which passed the Senate late Friday, because Democrats are expected to provide at most 25 “yeas” toward the 217 votes needed for passage.
But while Democratic opponents and their allies in the labor movement are raising the specter of lost manufacturing jobs if the massive Asia-Pacific trade deal and an even bigger pact with the European Union are approved, a number of conservative dissenters have rallied around their worry about giving Obama too much power.
Under the fast-track bill, Congress would surrender the right to amend the final trade deals and agree to give them up-or-down votes.
“I’m concerned about giving this president the authority” to negotiate such deals, explained Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who heads the roughly 40-member House Freedom Caucus and is a powerful conservative voice within the House Republican Conference. “I would think a majority of the House Freedom Caucus now is opposed to it for a variety of reasons,” the Ohio Republican added moments after standing next to House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling last week to call for an end to the Export-Import Bank. Jordan noted his caucus has not taken an official position on the bill and some of its members are undecided.
Indeed, lawmakers on the right who see eye to eye on many issues are divided over the trade promotion authority legislation. On the pro-side stand members like Sen. Ted Cruz and Hensarling, both of Texas. On the opposing side are the likes of Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jordan.
Hensarling’s spokeswoman, Sarah Rozier, said he “supports TPA and he’s encouraging other members to do the same.”
But when a majority of the GOP conference huddled Thursday morning to talk about the trade issue at a meeting organized by its chairwoman, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), and led by House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a lot of the members still had questions about the basics of how the fast-track process works — for example, how its protections would be stripped if the president brings back a bad deal, the panel’s trade subcommittee chairman, Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), said.
“I had one person, when I walked out, who said, ‘I have a better understanding. I’m getting closer [to supporting fast track],’” Tiberi told POLITICO.
Republican sources say the fast-track bill, which passed the Senate after a frenzied debate on Friday, could come up in the House as early as the first week of June.
Ryan and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) are increasingly confident that they can limit the conservative defections to those who have already declared their opposition, House Republican aides said.
“I don’t think they’re saying they’ve got [enough support to pass the bill], but they’ve opened a path to get it,” one of the aides said. “I don’t think there are all that many undecided. It’s a question of people whose minds might be able to be changed.”