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The U.S. House helped further shore up President Barack Obama’s trade agenda on Thursday when lawmakers in that chamber overwhelmingly voted to pass a worker protection measure.
The vote was 286-138 on a "Trade Adjustment Assistance" measure intended to shield workers who might be adversely affected by the trade deal. The president will now sign into law that bill, along with a measure giving him "fast-track" authority to negotiate a sweeping 12-nation trade pact without the threat of Congress adding amendments or filibustering the final deal.
The African Growth and Opportunity Act was also renewed by passage of the House measure.
Thursday's vote brings to a close a months-long saga over trade which was the source of heated debate between Democrats and their labor union allies and Republicans who sided with the president in arguing that the trade deal would boost the American economy. Democrats worried the trade deal would hurt American workers and result in lower wages and job losses.
"Once the president said he was just going to sign one bill, that ended the debate, really,” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said earlier in the day during her weekly press conference. “But it has not ended the debate about how we see a better prospect for trade as we go forward.”
Democrats dealt a blow to the president's trade agenda earlier this month, when lawmakers in the House helped undermine trade legislation. The series of surprising votes came mere hours after the president headed to Capitol Hill earlier that morning in a last-minute effort to try to sway Democratic House members to support his trade agenda — a move that rankled some Democrats.
Well into the debate, Pelosi announced on the House floor that she would be voting against "Trade Adjustment Assistance" and the measure giving the president "fast track" authority.
The worker protections measure failed in the House when it was attached to "fast track" earlier this month after Democrats united to defeat the measure in an effort to slow down that provision.
But the move didn't have the desired effect, as Republican leadership turned around and passed "fast track" as a stand-alone bill, sending it to the Senate for passage.
The Senate then passed by voice vote the worker protection measure.
The White House hailed Thursday's vote as one that would boost free and fair trade standards.
“This week's votes represent a much-needed win for hardworking American families,” the president said in a statement.