President Obama’s push for trade promotion authority failed to overcome a procedural hurdle in a tight vote Tuesday, as members of his own party voted against proceeding to debate on the fast-track legislation.
The measure failed to reach the 60 vote threshold, going down 52-45 with nearly all Democrats voting against cloture.
The trade promotion authority bill would grant Obama the ability to “fast track” trade bills without amendments from Congress — just an up or down vote — notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Democrats had been calling for three other measures to be added to the package including Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a measure dealing with currency manipulation and one dealing with Africa trade.
Tuesday before the vote, McConnell called on Democrats to vote to allow debate, and highlighted TAA as likely to be part of the end result.
“There are many members on my side of the aisle who have real reservations about TAA. I do as well, but I expect that at the end of this process — after the Senate works its will — that TAA, Trade Adjustment Assistance, will be part of a package that the Senate sends to the House,” McConnell said Tuesday, urging Democrats to vote to end debate and be able to amend the bill later.
Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) argued that all four measures should move together.
“It seems to me that he said there will be TPA and TAA in the bill and that dealing with Africa and these other provisions dealing with customs won’t be in the bill. That’s unfortunate,” Reid said.
The trade effort has put Republican leadership in an unusual position, supporting an Obama agenda item as members of the President’s own party push against it — witness Obama’s recent public sparring with fast-track opponent Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
“This is a long-term problem—a six-year problem, if fast track passes. A Republican President could easily use a future trade deal to override our domestic financial rules,” the Washington Post quoted Warren in a recent speech. “And this is hardly a hypothetical possibility: We are already deep into negotiations with the European Union on a trade agreement and big banks on both sides of the Atlantic are gearing up to use that agreement to water down financial regulations. A six-year Fast Track bill is the missing link they need to make that happen.”
With the administration looking for support, Tuesday afternoon Senate Democrats voted down the cloture motion.
“Voting to proceed to a bill is a vote that says ‘this is worthy of debate.’ Well, this bill is worthy of debate,” Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate Floor Monday.
Democrats are not the only ones with concerns. Republicans like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and some GOP presidential candidates have also voiced skepticism and opposition to fast track.
“It’s time for us to make sure that we do a trade agreement or trade promotion authority — the product that’s going to be passed into law and become a worldwide trade agreement — that it serves the American people’s interests,” Sessions said on the Senate floor last week.