Obama’s Trade Bill Gets Boost as Mitch McConnell Vows Vote ‘Soon’

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The Senate majority leader says he has been working with the White House on passing the deal.

The U.S. Sen­ate will take up leg­is­la­tion to give Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma the trade nego­ti­at­ing author­i­ty he wants “very soon,” Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Mitch McConnell said.

It’s been almost an out of body expe­ri­ence but we’ve been work­ing close­ly with the White House,” McConnell told reporters Tues­day as he said the trade bill would fol­low action on two oth­er mea­sures. “We’re work­ing togeth­er to try to get it across the fin­ish line.”

Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic Leader Har­ry Reid, a foe of “fast-track” trade author­i­ty, called on Repub­li­cans to first con­sid­er mea­sures to extend fed­er­al high­way fund­ing and mod­i­fy U.S. sur­veil­lance laws.

The Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion is seek­ing to build a coali­tion of most­ly Repub­li­cans and a few Democ­rats to back the trade bill, which lets the pres­i­dent send agree­ments in Con­gress for a quick vote with­out amendments.

Oba­ma says the abil­i­ty will help him com­plete the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship, a top sec­ond-term goal.

In the House, the bill faces oppo­si­tion from most Democ­rats and some Repub­li­cans. House Speak­er John Boehn­er, an Ohio Repub­li­can, has said Oba­ma will need to per­suade Democ­rats to back him, some­thing McConnell said is happening.

At the risk of hav­ing some of you lit­er­al­ly faint, I want to com­pli­ment the pres­i­dent for the way he’s han­dling the trade issue,” McConnell said.

Clear-Eyed Look’
White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest on Tues­day said the admin­is­tra­tion has made the case to indi­vid­ual law­mak­ers, empha­siz­ing that the trade mea­sure is good for workers.

The pres­i­dent is hope­ful that Democ­rats, as they take a clear-eyed look at this pro­pos­al will acknowl­edge that the best way to advance the kinds of pro­gres­sive val­ues and the best way to advance the inter­ests of mid­dle class fam­i­lies all across the coun­try, is to sup­port this par­tic­u­lar trade bill,” Earnest said.

McConnell brushed off Reid’s request to delay action until Con­gress dis­pos­es of the High­way Trust Fund exten­sion and mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the Patri­ot Act, which cov­ers surveillance.

Set­ting the agen­da is “the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the major­i­ty, and we’ll be going to do trade pro­mo­tion author­i­ty next,” McConnell said.

Asked whether 60 sen­a­tors would vote to advance the bill, a pro­ce­dur­al step in a cham­ber where Repub­li­cans hold 54 seats, McConnell said: “We sure hope so. We’re work­ing it hard.” Sev­en Democ­rats vot­ed in the Sen­ate Finance Com­mit­tee to approve the bill, sug­gest­ing Reid lacks the votes to stall the measure.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic Votes
In the House, the num­ber of Democ­rats say­ing they are will­ing to vote for the leg­is­la­tion increased the past few days, bring­ing the total to at least 16 who are pub­licly supportive.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Ami Bera of Cal­i­for­nia and John Delaney of Mary­land last week said they’d vote yes. And Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Suzanne Bonam­i­ci of Ore­gon also came out in favor yesterday.

A trade agree­ment done right will not only make it eas­i­er to sell Amer­i­can-made goods, it will lev­el the play­ing field by reduc­ing tar­iffs that cur­rent­ly make it dif­fi­cult to com­pete in many of the world’s mar­kets,” Bonam­i­ci said on her website.

House Major­i­ty Leader Kevin McCarthy of Cal­i­for­nia, who sets the floor-vote sched­ule, sig­naled to fel­low Repub­li­cans in a memo last week there will be no vote on fast-track author­i­ty until at least after the Memo­r­i­al Day recess.

McCarthy said the House will “con­tin­ue to lay the ground­work” for pass­ing nego­ti­at­ing author­i­ty this month.

Ear­ly pro­jec­tions inside the House from both sides of the aisle — and from some out­side groups — sug­gest there is a floor of about 180 House Repub­li­cans inclined to sup­port a trade pro­mo­tion author­i­ty bill, and a ceil­ing of about 200 Repub­li­cans. Over­all, 217 votes will be need­ed for pas­sage in a cham­ber where 432 seats are now filled.