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Senate Votes to Consider 'Fast Track' Trade Bill

President Barack Obama's trade agenda passed a critical hurdle after the measure garnered enough Democratic support to move forward in the Senate.
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A vital component of President Barack Obama's trade agenda and his economic legacy passed a critical hurdle after the measure garnered enough Democratic support to move forward in the Senate.

The Senate voted 62-38 to move forward on a bill that would give Obama "fast track" authority to negotiate, without the threat of congressional filibusters or added amendments, a massive 12-nation trade pact known as the Trans Pacific Partnership. The vote almost failed as a result of opposition from pro-trade Democrats who wanted amendment votes on unrelated provisions that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, would not allow.

“I am very happy the senate has decided to take another step forward on this important initiative,” McConnell said on the floor on Thursday.

Now that today's motion has passed, the Senate will finish consideration of the bill in the coming days. If opponents of the bill choose to delay the process, final consideration could seep into the weekend.

However, as the holiday weekend approaches senators tend to want to speed up the calendar.

Members of the president’s own party wanted to include a reauthorization for the Export-Import Bank of the United States, a federal credit agency focusing on export which a number of Republicans want to let expire at the end of June. Multiple Senate Democrats said after the vote that McConnell gave them assurances the chamber would hold a vote on an reauthorization of the credit agency in June, a deal made at the last minute in an effort to get enough Democrats to pass today's motion.

Democrats voting to proceed on considering the measure included Sens. Patty Murry and Maria Cantwell of Washington. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday visited Boeing's 737 plant in Renton, Washington and defended the sweeping, multinational trade deal being negotiated by the Obama administration.

Cantwell said she and McConnell would help negotiate reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank and the president has said the federal credit agency would be a priority of his current trade agenda.

Also voting to move forward was Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon. The president visited Nike's headquarters in the liberal-leaning community of Portland earlier this month to make the case for the trade deal.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the fast-track bill which must precede it, has deeply divided Democrats, and put Republicans in the unusual position of siding with the president. While the vast majority of Republicans support the trade pact, many Democrats oppose it saying it will cost American jobs and result in lowered middle class wages.

Senate Democrats have leveraged eagerness over getting the trade deal done to get a vote on a customs bill which includes currency manipulation and enforcement provisions that the Democratic caucus supports but many Republicans and the White House oppose. The Senate passed that measure as well as the African Growth and Opportunity Act — a non-controversial trade preference program focusing on sub-Saharan African nations, last week.

The high-profile rift between the White House and some segments of the Democratic caucus highlights inter-party tensions as both sides have roundly chastised the other over their stances.

— Frank Thorp V, Kelly O'Donnell and Halimah Abdullah