President Barack Obama signed several trade bills into law on Monday which give him greater authority to negotiate a hotly debated multinational trade deal.
The measures are also some of the most important bipartisan pieces of legislation to land on his desk during his second term.
The president also called the signing a “good day” for rare bipartisanship in Washington as he thanked members of Congress for passing the bills.
The “fast track” measure which gives the president the authority to negotiate the massive 12-nation trade pact without the threat of Congress adding amendments or filibustering the final deal is crucial to the Obama administration’s trade agenda and a future deal with Pacific Rim nations. The trade package also included aid for workers who lose jobs as a result of trade and a measure focused on African trade preferences.
The crowd gave the president a standing ovation as he entered the East room at the White House. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough smiled widely in the front row.
The president identified House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as instrumental in helping get the measures through a divided Congress, though neither was in attendance since both chambers are in recess this week.
The president signed the legislation surrounded by mostly Democrats, and two Republicans, Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Washington, and Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, and in his remarks Obama acknowledged the difficulties the bills faced. Obama and members of his administration made numerous public appearances, gave interviews and personally spoke with members of Congress to rally support for the measures.
There was substantial push back from some Democrats and labor unions who worried the trade pact would cost American jobs. The ensuing high profile disagreement on the matter between the president and some segments of his party lead to rousing debate and what the White House termed legislative "procedural snafus".
The president acknowledged those challenges in his remarks.
“Now, I think it’s fair to say that getting these bills through Congress has not been easy. They’ve been declared dead more than once,” the president said.
In May, Democrats blocked consideration of a bill that would give the president "fast track" authority to negotiate the trade pact. This month the president approved giving him that authority.
Earlier this month, Democrats dealt a blow to the president's trade agenda 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.
The bills struggled in the House when Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and members of the Democratic caucus pulled their support for a measure aimed at helping workers adversely impacted by the trade measure failed in the House when it was attached to "fast track". The move was an effort to slow down that provision.
But a legislative strategy pushed by Republican leaders gave the measure new life, and eventually the ability to out maneuver the Democrats.
“This bill is a big win for American jobs and leadership, and I hope the president will continue to work with us to get more bipartisan, House-passed jobs bills signed into law,” Boehner said Monday in a statement.
The fight for that future trade deal is far from over.
“We still have some tough negotiations that are going to be taking place,” Obama told the crowd, “And so the debate on the particular provisions of trade will not end with this bill signing.”