Obama Trade Deal In Trouble in Senate

President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the White House.
AP/Charles Dharapak
Washington, DC

It’s not dead yet, but President Barack Obama’s trade agenda is in trouble in Congress right now. On Tuesday, ahead of a scheduled procedural vote called the “motion to proceed”—which normally passes with no problems—a bipartisan group of senators stood together against the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that fast-track Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Pacific Rim trade deal, minimizing Congress’ authority when it comes to trade deals.

“A group of pro-trade Senate Democrats announced on Tuesday that they will vote against a fast-track trade measure, effectively blocking the bill from being debated by the Senate,” Politico reported in a breaking news alert. “After a lengthy meeting on Tuesday, the Democrats said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had not guaranteed sufficient concessions on worker protections.”

Sources across Capitol Hill say this doesn’t kill the trade deal entirely, but will stall it for at least a couple of days. It’s also a big embarrassment to McConnell, as the real expected fight was going to be on the motion to cut off debate—cloture—later in the week or early next week, and his failure to simply be able to bring a bill he supports to the floor is essentially a U.S. Senate vote of no confidence in his ability to lead.

This all comes as almost every Republican running for president—from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to Dr. Ben Carson to Carly Fiorina to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and more—have come out swinging against rushing this secretive trade deal through Congress.

“What is in this agreement known as TPP? I, as a United States Congressman, can read the negotiations,” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), a conservative, wrote for Breitbart News in a piece where he calls on Congress to oppose the deal. “However, in order to read them, I must be in a classified reading room in the Capitol, sign a non-disclosure agreement which assures that I will not discuss the contents of what I have read, and I am allowed to take notes, but I have to leave them in the room.”

This deal was expected to sail through the U.S. Senate, too, and its failure to pass even on the motion to proceed—a purely procedural measure—shows just how toxic Obama’s trade agenda is, even though Republicans in leadership keep trying to sell it to get it through using phony poll-tested talking points from GOP pollster Frank Luntz.

It’s unclear if McConnell will now abandon his plans to push through Obama’s trade agenda, or if he’ll try again to pass it—but one thing is now clear: It’s going to be a lot more difficult than anyone thought to get this through the Senate even if it is possible to do so. What’s more, just like the “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill, it’s unclear if House Speaker John Boehner would even be able to get it passed through the House at all–and if he were, without an uprising against his leadership team.