First Read: Obama's Trade Agenda Is Alive

by Mark Murray , Chuck Todd and Andrew Rafferty /  / Updated 

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First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Obama’s trade agenda is alive -- and could very well pass

To borrow an analogy from “Game of Thrones,” it’s no longer correct to think that President Obama’s trade agenda is Ned Stark (done and never coming back). Instead, it looks more and more like The Mountain (raised from the dead and likely to get his way). That’s the reality after the House passed a stand-alone Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, 218-208, which now heads to the Senate. And the whole game now is whether or not a good chunk of the 14 Senate Democrats who voted for Obama’s trade agenda last month are willing to pass TPA as a stand-alone measure, with the promise that Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) will pass at a later time. NBC’s Frank Thorp got reaction from some of these pro-trade Democrats now that TPA is decoupled from TAA:

  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH): "Well, I think if we're going to pass trade legislation we need to pass legislation to help workers who are displaced. How that gets done, I'm open to”;
  • Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA): "I've never said that they have to be bolted together, but I have to know that they're both going to pass. So I don't know what the strategy is that would give me that comfort level, but I would want to see that”;
  • Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE): Per Thorp, he would oppose TPA without assurances that TAA would also pass

Game theory: Is TAA still a hostage if the Senate passes TPA?

Bottom line: It appears these Senate Democrats can be persuaded to vote for TPA again, as long as there’s some assurance that TAA gets approved down the road. Of course, remember that TAA -- long favored by Democrats -- was the vehicle that House Dems and organized labor torpedoed to stop TPA. “The current situation is exceedingly complicated, and exceedingly …. strange,” as the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent notes. Yet here’s also the game theory: If House Democrats have taken their own TAA hostage to prevent TPA from passing, but TPA goes ahead and passes, then there’s really no hostage left. As Roll Call puts it, “Democrats don’t actually oppose TAA; they’re just hanging onto the prospect of possibly blocking TPA with the worker aid bill.” Indeed, here’s Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), per CNN: "That is the quintessential cutting of our noses to spite our face. And it's not cutting off our noses -- it's cutting off the noses of working people." And if that’s the case, then these pro-trade Senate Democrats PROBABLY can feel good about getting TAA passed at a later date. Then again, there are no guarantees in politics.

The longer TPA is alive (and has a chance to pass), the more pressure it puts on Hillary

But the longer that Obama’s trade agenda survives, the more Hillary Clinton has to perform verbal gymnastics -- as we saw yesterday. In an interview with Nevada’s Jon Ralston yesterday, Clinton appeared to signal that she opposes the TPA measure that’s headed to the Senate.

RALSTON: If you were in the Senate still…would you vote for TPA?

CLINTON: At this point, um, probably not because it’s a process vote and i don’t wanna say it’s the same as TPP. Right now I’m focused on making sure we get Trade Adjustment Assistance, and I certainly would not vote for it unless I were absolutely confident we would get Trade Adjustment Assistance.”

To be fair to Clinton, her answer isn’t too dissimilar from the Shaheen/Kaine/Coons statements above: She’s wary of TPA being passed without TAA. But this also is true: The longer TPA stays alive (and has a chance of passing) puts additional pressure on her. She’s trying to walk this line of giving labor a fig leaf of sympathetic support. But it is very hard to believe she’s actually against the TPP or TPA. Would she really be against this -- or even be this skeptical -- if she were already president? If TPA dies and TPP doesn’t happen, she’s on safe ground. But if it does pass, she’s going to look a little too cute by half.

Obama: "I didn’t say, yes, ‘I’ can; I said, yes, ‘we’ can"

At a fundraiser last night in Santa Monica, CA, President Obama talked about the horrific South Carolina shootings -- as well as the disappointments on things he’s been unable to change, like getting gun control passed. His response: If Americans are disappointed, they need to mobilize and organize, too. “If you’re dissatisfied that every few months we have a mass shooting in this country, killing innocent people, then I need you to mobilize and organize a constituency that says this is not normal and we are going to change it, and put pressure to elect people who insist on that change,” he said. “If you’re concerned about racial polarization in this country ... what are you doing to reach out in your own community to make sure that that child who does not look like your child has the same opportunities that your child does?”

2016ers react to the Charleston shootings

  • Hillary Clinton: "We have to face hard truths about race, violence, guns and division”/// "The shock and pain of this crime of hate strikes deep." – speech to NALEO conference
  • Ted Cruz: "Today the body of Christ is in morning," he said "And I just want to begin with a moment of silence remembering those who were murdered last night." – speech to the Faith & Freedom Coalition
  • Rand Paul: “What kind of person goes in a church and shoots nine people? There’s a sickness in our country. There's something terribly wrong," – speech to the Faith & Freedom Coalition.

Marco Rubio also addressed the Faith & Freedom confab yesterday, but strikingly, he didn’t address the Charleston shootings. When asked about that omission, his campaign noted his tweet from earlier in the day: “Saddened by the news from Charleston. The victims and their families are in my prayers today.”

Debate overSouth Carolina’s Confederate flag is back

One other thing to note about the Charleston violence: It’s revived the conversation about whether the state government of South Carolina should sanction the flying of a Confederate flag at the statehouse. Don’t be surprised if that returns as a national debate – especially with Democratic and Republican presidential candidates descending on South Carolina in the 2016 campaign season.

On “Meet the Press” this Sunday: NBC’s Chuck Todd will interview GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, as well as Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC).

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