Democrats defy White House on trade pact
By Burgess Everett, Politico
5/12/15 3:08 PM EDT
In a stern rebuke to President Barack Obama, Senate Democrats rebelled against his trade initiative on Tuesday afternoon and voted against even opening debate on the bill.
Democrats have demanded additional worker protections before they would consider voting to approve fast-track trade powers for the president. Shortly ahead of the vote, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rejected the demands, insisting he would not make any guarantees beyond a vote on the fast-track bill.
The ensuing Democratic filibuster sank the legislation on the Senate floor, 52-45, with 60 needed to pass. Trade proponents in both parties vowed to try to put the pieces back together, but with little more than a week before a Memorial Day recess and several expiring laws still to be addressed, the immediate future of Obama’s trade agenda is uncertain.
Republicans and White House officials have argued that enacting fast-track Trade Promotion Authority is critical for Obama’s ability to strike a massive trade deal with Pacific Rim countries.
“What we just saw here is pretty shocking,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) immediately following the vote.
Democrats that are supportive of Obama’s trade efforts huddled on Tuesday afternoon to plot their strategy. After nearly an hour, led by Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the bloc of about 10 Democrats said McConnell has not offered them sufficient guarantees.
“The group is concerned about the lack of commitment to trade enforcement, which is specifically the customs bill,” Wyden told reporters after the meeting. “Until there is a path to get all four bills passed … we will, certainly most of us, will have to vote no.”
The customs provision in particular is viewed as veto-bait for the White House, potentially complicating the trade package’s future if it is approved. The measure could force the administration to designate China as a currency manipulator, which the White House fears would spark a trade war with Beijing.