House rejects Obama on trade authority

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Jerry Seib: The Strange Politics of the Trade Authority Vote

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House sidetracked a high-profile White House-backed trade bill on Friday, a humiliating defeat for President Barack Obama inflicted by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and dozens of rank-and-file lawmakers from his own party.

The 302-126 vote came a few hours after Obama journeyed to the Capitol to deliver a last-minute personal plea to fellow Democrats to support the measure, which would allow him to negotiate global trade deals that Congress could approve or reject but not change.

"I don't think you ever nail anything down around here. It's always moving," the president said as he departed - a prescient remark given Pelosi's dramatic announcement later on the House floor.


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House rejects Obama on trade authority
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington toward the House Chamber, Friday, June 12, 2015. The House sidetracked a high-profile White House-backed trade bill, a humiliating defeat for President Barack Obama inflicted by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and dozens of rank-and-file lawmakers from his own party. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama walks through a hallway after meeting with House Democrats at the US Capitol on June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. The House blocked a trade bill on June 12 which would have given Obama authority to pursue a sweeping free trade agenda. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Demonstrators protest against the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement outside the Senate office buildings on Capitol Hill June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed an important proceedural vote on the trade bill, which would grant President Barack Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major Pacific trade accord, clearing the way for final passage as early as Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Demonstrators protest against the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement outside the Senate office buildings on Capitol Hill June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed an important proceedural vote on the trade bill, which would grant President Barack Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major Pacific trade accord, clearing the way for final passage as early as Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Demonstrators protest against the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement outside the Senate office buildings on Capitol Hill June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed an important proceedural vote on the trade bill, which would grant President Barack Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major Pacific trade accord, clearing the way for final passage as early as Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Demonstrators protest against the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement outside the Senate office buildings on Capitol Hill June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed an important proceedural vote on the trade bill, which would grant President Barack Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major Pacific trade accord, clearing the way for final passage as early as Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Md., arrives for a meeting with President Barack Obama and other House Democrats on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 12, 2015. The president made an 11th-hour appeal to dubious Democrats on Friday in a tense run-up to a House showdown on legislation to strengthen his hand in global trade talks. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. leave meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 12, 2015. The president made an 11th-hour appeal to dubious Democrats on Friday in a tense run-up to a House showdown on legislation to strengthen his hand in global trade talks (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama walks in the Democratic dugout as he makes a visit to the Congressional baseball game at Nationals Park, on Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Washington (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
In this photo taken June 9, 2015, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., answers questions during an interview with The Associated Press in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington. First, give presidents the power to strike trade deals. Then overturn President Barack Obama’s health care law, overhaul the tax code and reform welfare. And someday? Figure out whether to run for president. Call it the New Ryan Plan, a map not just to big changes in the nation’s fiscal policy, but to Paul Ryan’s future. It points the ninth-term congressman and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee away from the presidential campaign trail and into the thicket of policy that he says will set the country on better financial footing. The path likely emerges at a familiar decision point _ whether to run for president _ somewhere down the road. Ryan, 45, says he might decide to take that step, someday. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 4, 2015. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. said Thursday that President Barack Obama can count on only a small number of Democrats to back his ambitious trade agenda, and Republicans must supply the rest. Boehner said Obama must procure more Democratic support, telling reporters he spoke with Obama on Wednesday, and "he's got some work to do, too." (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi leaves after a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 4, 2015. Pelosi said that President Barack Obama can count on only a small number of Democrats to back his ambitious trade agenda, and Republicans must supply the rest. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said Obama must procure more Democratic support, telling reporters he spoke with Obama on Wednesday, and "he's got some work to do, too." (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
FILE - In this May 5, 2015 file photo, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Ky. walks to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington. Senate leaders said Tuesday that Democrats have enough votes to block action on President Barack Obama's trade initiatives unless the parties can work out disagreements on how to package various bills. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a strong opponent of Obama’s trade agenda, said Democrats have more than enough votes to block action for now. McConnell agreed. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
UNITED STATES - MAY 12: Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., left, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, arrive for a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to express support for passage of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation, May 12, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. Earnest discussed the much-anticipated Senate vote on trade, and other topics. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 12: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., leave the Senate Democrats' policy luncheon on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
In this May 8, 2015, photo, President Barack Obama speaks at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. A much-anticipated Senate vote on trade will pack some suspense Tuesday, but it won’t be the final word, no matter how it turns out. Supporters of President Barack Obama’s trade agenda need 60 votes in the 100-member Senate merely to start a full-blown debate on the legislation. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. Earnest discussed the much-anticipated Senate vote on trade, and other topics. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
UNITED STATES - MAY 12: Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., right, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, conduct a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to express support for passage of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation, May 12, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 21, 2015 before the Senate Finance Committee hearing on fast track authority. Major labor unions and business groups clashed Tuesday over President Barack Obama's bid for "fast track" authority to advance trade deals being negotiated with numerous nations. Trumka told the Senate Finance Committee that the fast track legislation would rob Congress of a meaningful role in shaping trade deals. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, right, talks with U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 21, 2015, prior to their testifying before the Senate Finance Committee hearing on fast track authority. Major labor unions and business groups clashed Tuesday over President Barack Obama's bid for "fast track" authority to advance trade deals being negotiated with numerous nations. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah gives an opening remark on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 21, 2015, before the committee's hearing on fast track authority. Major labor unions and business groups clashed Tuesday over President Barack Obama's bid for "fast track" authority to advance trade deals being negotiated with numerous nations. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, right, walks into a hearing room on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 21, 2015, with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, center, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue before the committee's hearing on fast track authority. Major labor unions and business groups clashed Tuesday over President Barack Obama's bid for "fast track" authority to advance trade deals being negotiated with numerous nations. Trumka told the committee that the fast track legislation would rob Congress of a meaningful role in shaping trade deals. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama, left, walks with Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., as he makes a visit to the Congressional baseball game at Nationals Park, on Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Washington (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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"Slow down the fast track to get a better deal for the America people," the California lawmaker said in a speech that drew handshakes and hugs from union-backed Democrats who have labored for months to reject Obama's request for "fast track" authority in trade talks.

Republicans command a majority in the House, and Speaker John Boehner and the GOP leadership worked in harness with Obama to pass the legislation. But there were many defections among Republicans unwilling to expand the president's authority and not nearly enough Democrats supporting him for the bill to prevail.

The outcome was also a triumph for organized labor, which had lobbied lawmakers furiously to oppose the measure that union officials warned would lead to the loss of thousands of American jobs.

Technically, the vote was on a portion of the legislation to renew federal aid for workers who lose their jobs through imports.

A second roll call followed on the trade negotiating powers themselves, and the House approved that measure, 219-211. But under the rules in effect, the overall legislation, previously approved by the Senate, could not advance to the White House unless both halves were agreed to. That made votes something less than a permanent rejection of the legislation.

Pelosi said the bill was "stuck in the station," suggesting that changes could get it moving again.

Even so, it was unclear how majority Republicans and the White House would be able to gain the momentum.

"Basically the president tried to both guilt people and then impugn their integrity," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., one of the most outspoken opponents of the legislation.

Another Democrat, Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, said Obama had told Democrats that "his whole philosophy, life, everything he's done has been to help people. And he thinks he's doing that with this trade agreement."

Cohen added he remains on the fence after hearing Obama make his pitch. He noted that FedEx, a major employer in his district, supports the bill, while longtime political allies in organized labor oppose it.

Business groups generally favor the measure. But strong opposition by organized labor carries at least an implicit threat to the re-election of any Democrat who votes in the bill's favor.

The debate and vote are certain to reverberate in next year's presidential election as well. Most Republican contenders favor the trade bill. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton is uncommitted, despite calls from presidential rival Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, an opponent of the measure, to take a position.

The president's hastily arranged visit to Capitol Hill marked a bid to stave off a humiliating defeat at the hands of his own party.

His visit relegated much of the debate on the House floor to the status of a sideshow.

"Is America going to shape the global economy, or is it going to shape us?" said Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who is head of the House Ways and Means Committee and a GOP pointman on an issue that scrambled the normal party alignment in divided government.

But Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., countered that the legislation heading toward a showdown vote included "no meaningful protections whatever against currency manipulation" by some of America's trading partners, whose actions he said have "ruined millions of middle class jobs."

Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California, an opponent of the legislation, said Obama's appeal "didn't convince me. It may have convinced other members."

Other presidents have had the authority Obama seeks. The White House wants the legislation as it works to wrap up a round of talks with 11 Pacific Area countries.

The same measure included a renewal of assistance for workers who lose their jobs as a result of global trade. Normally, that is a Democratic priority, but in this case, Levin and other opponents of the measure mounted an effort to kill the aid package, as a way of toppling the entire bill.

The move caught the GOP off-guard. House Republicans, already in the awkward position of allying themselves with Obama, found themselves being asked by their leaders to vote for a worker retraining program that most have long opposed as wasteful. Many were reluctant to do so, leaving the fate of the entire package up in the air, and Obama facing the prospect of a brutal loss - unless he can eke out what all predict would be the narrowest of wins.

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Associated Press writers David Espo, Darlene Superville, Jim Kuhnhenn, Alan Fram, Laurie Kellman and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.




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