First Read: Will Trade Be Obama's Biggest Bipartisan Achievement?

by Mark Murray , Chuck Todd and Andrew Rafferty /  / Updated 
Image: Barack Obama, Kevin Johnson, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
President Barack Obama, joined by Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson, left, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, right, arrives to speak at the Annual Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco, Friday, June 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)AP

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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.

Trade win clears the way for Obama’s biggest bipartisan achievement

The Senate voting yesterday to proceed on President Obama’s trade agenda was a big win for the White House, a loss for organized labor and progressive Democrats, and a true political comeback (given that it looked like lost cause a couple of weeks ago). But maybe more than anything else, yesterday’s result clears the way for arguably the biggest bipartisan achievement of the Obama Era. After all, it’s not every day when Obama, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan all come together. And what’s remarkable is that all of these folks had opportunities to bail, with progressives and the Breitbart crowd in opposition. But they stuck together. Now, the president’s trade agenda isn’t finalized -- the Senate still must give final approval to the fast-track Trade Promotion Authority (but that requires just 51 votes), the House needs to pass Trade Adjustment Assistance (but it’s what Democrats truly want), and then the actual Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement must eventually get an up-or-down vote. But the chances of those things happening are much, much more likely than a week or two ago. And it’s due to a true man-bites-dog story: Obama and congressional GOP leaders working together -- and sticking together, despite opposition from their bases.

A not-so lame duck

Right after the 2014 midterms, many political observers -- including your authors here -- believed Obama had officially entered lame-duck status. But we were wrong. After the Democratic losses, Obama flexed his executive muscles on Cuba, the environment, and immigration (though the latter has been stalled in the courts). Now you can throw in likely passage of a historic trade agreement, as well as the possibility of a finalized nuclear deal with Iran. As we wrote last week, this June is a big legacy month for the president. So far, he’s cleared the trade hurdle. Now we’re on to health care (with a Supreme Court decision coming) and Iran (with the deadline at the end of the month). And on the topic of Iran, the WikiLeaks allegations of the NSA’s spying on France aren’t going to be helpful. Neither is the Ayatollah’s hardline speech on the talks.

Hillary now has to make up her mind on the TPP trade agreement

While yesterday’s Senate trade vote was a victory for Obama, it was bad news for Hillary Clinton. Why? Because she no longer has an excuse NOT to take a position on the TPP trade agreement -- something she called the “gold standard” when she was Obama’s secretary of state. Over the last few weeks, Hillary’s play has been a cautious one (an all-too-familiar play), appearing to assume that TPA might not pass (so why even take a position on TPP?) and then embracing Nancy Pelosi and finally opposing the TPA measure that looks headed for Obama’s signature. But her caution on this tricky issue undercuts her strong moves elsewhere (on race, immigration, voting rights). And it opens her up to attacks like this one from Jeb Bush: “I haven’t changed in my view even though Hillary Clinton has. It is time to move forward as even recent Democratic presidents have recognized — and Sec. Clinton shouldn’t stand in the way for political gain,” he wrote. Now Hillary faces this choice: Support Obama (and her past position) but risk exposing her left flank, or oppose TPP yet risk looking like a pandering flip-flopper.

Labor pains

One final point on yesterday’s Senate trade vote: It was a BIG loss for organized labor -- after its dwindling membership and political defeats in Wisconsin. A couple of weeks ago, they won a high-profile battle when House Democrats sank the Trade Adjustment Assistance. But they’re now headed to lose the trade war. There are still plenty of places where labor runs the show for Democrats (California comes to mind). But as a national movement, it’s losing political steam.

The new civil-rights movement -- on social media:

Be sure not to miss this piece by NBC’s Perry Bacon: “American politicians, from Republicans in South Carolina to President Barack Obama, are increasingly addressing issues of race in frank terms, spurred by a series of racially charged incidents across the country, the rise of ‘black Twitter’ and the strength of the ‘Obama coalition’ of white liberals and minority voters... In all these moves, both Democratic politicians and some Republicans seem to be following the moves of the activists who emerged in the wake of the death of Michael Brown at the hands of Ferguson police last year. This new generation of activists, many of whom are African-Americans who primarily organize online, start using the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ last year, inspiring Clinton to repeat it.” Remember those bumper stickers in the 70s and 80s, “If the people lead, the leaders will follow”? That’s exactly what seems to be happening in this rise of a new civil-rights movement.

Jindal enters the 2016 race

Turning to the 2016 race, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will announce his presidential bid from Kenner, LA at 5:00 pm ET. It wasn’t too long ago when Jindal was one of the Republican Party’s biggest stars (remember when he was tapped to give the GOP response to Obama’s first address to Congress?). Since then, he’s struggled -- particularly at home. And in this presidential contest, his chief objective is making that first debate stage and not being considered an afterthought. He’s been preparing this presidential bid for years. Can he meet the moment?

Christie set to jump in as early as next week?

Another GOP governor with problems at home looks set to officially jump into the 2016 race as early as next week -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Politico: “Chris Christie is in the final stages of preparing his 2016 presidential bid, with a formal announcement possible as soon as next week, according to several sources familiar with the discussions. The New Jersey governor’s planning has intensified in recent days. On Monday, his campaign-in-waiting announced that he’d hired two additional staffers in New Hampshire, a state seen as critical to his White House hopes. Earlier this month, Maria Comella, a longtime Christie aide, departed the governor’s official office to take a senior position at his political action committee.”

Walker with trouble back home

Finally, here’s the New York Times on Wisconsin Republicans who aren’t all that pleased with Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential moves: “Republicans back home are in revolt. Leaders of Mr. Walker’s party, which controls the Legislature, are balking at his demands for the state’s budget. Critics say the governor’s spending blueprint is aimed more at appealing to conservatives in early-voting states like Iowa than doing what is best for Wisconsin. Lawmakers are stymied over how to pay for road and bridge repairs without raising taxes or fees, which Mr. Walker has ruled out.”

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