Obama signs trade bills into law, says tough battle still ahead

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Obama Signs Trade Bills Into Law

U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday signed into law legislation that gives him "fast-track" power to push ahead on a Pacific Rim trade deal that has been the subject of intense debate in Congress and across the nation.

Flanked by some of the lawmakers who supported the bill through a six-week congressional battle, Obama acknowledged that his fight to secure the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership was far from over.

"We still have some tough negotiations that are going to be taking place," Obama said at a signing ceremony. He noted that lawmakers and the public will be able to scrutinize the trade deal before it is finalized. "The debate will not end with this bill signing," he said.

The package also included aid for workers who lose their jobs as a result of trade, and an Africa trade preferences bill.

Obama wants the trade deal to be a central part of his administration's foreign policy pivot to Asia and to help serve as a counterweight to the economic might of China. He also hopes to complete an ambitious trade deal with the European Union.

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Obama signs trade bills into law, says tough battle still ahead
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) (C) talks with reporters following the weekly Democratic Senate policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed an important procedural vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership bill, which would grant President Barack Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major trade accord, clearing the way for final passage as early as Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (L) talks to reporters with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) following the weekly Democratic Senate policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed an important procedural vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership bill, which would grant President Barack Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major trade accord, clearing the way for final passage as early as Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) talks with reporters following the weekly Democratic Senate policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed an important procedural vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership bill, which would grant President Barack Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major trade accord, clearing the way for final passage as early as Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) (R) talks to reporters following the weekly Republican Senate policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed an important procedural vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership bill, which would grant President Barack Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major trade accord, clearing the way for final passage as early as Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (C) talks to reporters following the weekly Democratic Senate policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed an important procedural vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership bill, which would grant President Barack Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major trade accord, clearing the way for final passage as early as Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is pursued by reporters following the weekly Democratic Senate policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed an important procedural vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership bill, which would grant President Barack Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major trade accord, clearing the way for final passage as early as Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (C) talks to reporters with Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) (L) and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) after the weekly Republican Senate policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed an important procedural vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership bill, which would grant President Barack Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major trade accord, clearing the way for final passage as early as Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 09: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answers questions as members of the Republican leadership speak about the Defense Authorization Bill following caucus luncheons at the U.S. Capitol June 9, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Rep. Lloyd Doggett, ,D-Texas, left, and Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., join other House Democrats who are standing in opposition to the President Barack Obama's trade deal speak to reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., accompanied by fellow House Democrats, listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 16, 2016, to discuss opposition to the President Barack Obama's trade deal. Despite Obama's direct appeal, House Democrats voted overwhelmingly on Friday to reject a jobs retraining program because it was legislatively linked to fast track, which they want to kill. Both parties were asking Tuesday whether they could persuade enough colleagues to switch their votes and reverse Friday's outcome, but few were optimistic. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., accompanied by fellow House Democrats, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 16, 2016, to discuss opposition to the President Barack Obama's trade deal. Despite Obama's direct appeal, House Democrats voted overwhelmingly on Friday to reject a jobs retraining program because it was legislatively linked to fast track, which they want to kill. Both parties were asking Tuesday whether they could persuade enough colleagues to switch their votes and reverse Friday's outcome, but few were optimistic. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 12: Members of the House depart for the weekend after a series of critical votes at the US Capitol June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. House Democrats voted down legislation that would grant aid to workers displaced by trade, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the fast-track legislation. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 12: Members of the House depart for the weekend after a series of critical votes at the US Capitol June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. House Democrats voted down legislation that would grant aid to workers displaced by trade, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the fast-track legislation. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 12: Members of the House depart for the weekend after a series of critical votes at the US Capitol June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. House Democrats voted down legislation that would grant aid to workers displaced by trade, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the fast-track legislation. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 12: Members of the House depart for the weekend after a series of critical votes at the US Capitol June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. House Democrats voted down legislation that would grant aid to workers displaced by trade, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the fast-track legislation. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama walks with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right and House Minority Assistant Leader James Clyburn of S.C., as he visits Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 12, 2015, for a meeting with House Democrats. 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/Carolyn Kaster)
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)
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-NJ., 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)
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. walks toward the House Chamber floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, 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)
From left, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., Rep. David E. Price, D-NC., and Rep. Danny Davis, R-Ill., arrive 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)
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., left, and Rep. Sanford D. Bishop, Jr., D-Ga., arrive 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)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 12: House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (L) walks through the halls of Congress before a series of critical votes at the US Capitol June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. House Democrats voted down legislation that would grant aid to workers displaced by trade, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the fast-track legislation. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 12: House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) walks through the halls of Congress before a series of critical votes at the US Capitol June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. House Democrats voted down legislation that would grant aid to workers displaced by trade, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the fast-track legislation. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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Republicans, who traditionally support free trade deals, backed Obama and helped get the legislation through Congress. But they faced obstacles from skeptical Democrats, who worry the trade deal will hurt American jobs, and were pressured by unions to vote against the bills.

"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," Obama said, thanking Republican leaders by name as well as Democratic supporters "who took tough votes" to get the bills passed.

"I would not be signing these bills if I was not absolutely convinced that these pieces of legislation are ultimately good for American workers," he said.

Obama urged lawmakers to "summon the same spirit" to work with him to renew funding for highways, bridges and other infrastructure projects. The Highway Trust Fund is on track to run out of money in July.

As Obama signed the legislation, using a set of 20 commemorative pens set out for the ceremony, he remarked: "This is so much fun, we should do it again!"

"No, thank you," came a sotto voce reply from one of the lawmakers, eliciting laughter.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Lindsay Dunsmuir and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Sandra Maler and Dan Grebler)

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