House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has shied away from helping garner Democratic support for giving the president “fast track” authority to negotiate a sweeping multinational trade pact — despite President Barack Obama’s heavy push to get the measures passed.
It’s a balancing act for the liberal-leaning California Democrat.
The majority of her caucus opposes the legislation amid worries that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive 12-nation trade accord, will cost American jobs and result in lowered middle class wages. Last month, the Senate passed a bill that would give the president "fast-track" authority to negotiate the mass trade pact without the threat of Congress adding amendments or filibustering the final deal.
But that approval came only after the Senate initially blocked consideration of that legislation in a dramatic showdown that was seen as a stinging rebuke to the administration’s efforts.
Meanwhile, Obama administration officials have been for weeks running a clear public relations strategy on trade, with the president talking the deal up in interviews last week with local news channels in states with large liberal populations and in previous interviews with David Letterman, MSNBC's Chris Matthew and NPR's Steve Inskeep.
Last month, the president traveled to Nike's headquarters in the liberal city of Portland to make the case for the trade deal. During the same month, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Boeing's 737 plant in Renton, Washington to defend the trade deal.
All of this high profile pressure puts Pelosi in a tough spot between her members and the president’s agenda.
Just a handful of House Democrats have publicly said they will vote in favor of the trade measure, although Pelosi mentioned Thursday “maybe” a few more could swing that way.
One thing is for sure — Pelosi won’t be the one trying to rally more support. That’ll fall on the speaker or the president.
“It's absolutely the Speaker's responsibility,” Pelosi told reporters during her weekly press conference last week. “I have confidence in him. I think he can deliver 200 of his members, but it's not my responsibility.”
This is just the latest public scuffle between Pelosi and President Obama.
In December, the two Democrats disagreed on whether the House should pass the $1.1 trillion “cromnibus” package. Pelosi refused to support the measure because it rolled back parts of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law despite the White House throwing its support behind it.
The package barely passed the House 219-206 with just 57 Democrats voting for it.
On trade, the White House seems to be deferring to Pelosi on gauging Democratic support.
“There is no one who is a better, more effective and more accurate vote counter on Capitol Hill than Nancy Pelosi,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters last week adding that there’s no reason to disagree with Pelosi’s assessment
Still, “The president is also determined to advocate for the most progressive trade legislation,” Earnest said.
Republicans put the burden on Obama.
“I think it’s the president’s responsibility to deliver votes from his party,” House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan said.
“Two years ago we said we were going to need 50 Democrats to get this done. We won’t need that many. But we are still going to need the president to deliver votes and more than they have right now.”
But House Republican leaders are optimistic passage of “fast track” authority on trade will come by the end of June — possibly as early as this week.
“We are not quite there yet. We are picking up votes every day,” Ryan said. “We are getting within striking distance.”
Speaking following the G7 Summit in Germany Monday morning, President Obama echoed his desire for the House to bring up the matter.
“I'm not going to hypothesize about not getting it done — I intend to get it done,” the president said. “Hopefully, we're going to get a vote soon because I think it's the right thing to do.”