TIME Congress

Senate Passes Keystone Bill

Senate Votes On Keystone XL Pipeline Bill
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) (C) speaks about the Keystone XL Pipeline while flanked by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) during a news conference on Jan. 29, 2015 at the US Capitol in Washington D.C. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Bill passed in the Republican-led Senate 62-36

The new Republican Congress is on the verge of passing a bill to build the controversial Keystone oil pipeline, helping connect the Alberta tar sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

After debating the environmental and economic issues surrounding the 1,179 mile pipeline for years, the Senate passed a bill Thursday that would authorize construction of a pipeline linking the Canadian tar sands with Gulf Coast oil refineries. It’s the first politically significant bill that has passed the Senate since Republicans regained a majority there this month.

The bill, which passed 62 to 36, was one of several top priorities for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, advancing despite a White House veto threat over three weeks ago. The House will now decide whether it will take up the Senate bill, or move to go to conference. The President has vowed to veto the final bill.

The way in which it passed through the Senate—with more than double the number of amendments considered last year—provoked McConnell to flash a rare smile during a speech on the chamber floor Thursday morning.

“The debate over these American jobs has shown that with bipartisan cooperation, it’s possible to get Washington functioning again,” said McConnell. “This debate is also providing that the new Congress is ready to work and work hard for the middle class, even in the teeth of opposition from special interests.”

Republicans have often used the $8 billion pipeline to bash the Obama administration for catering to Washington special interests over middle class jobs; in his 2012 presidential run, Mitt Romney said he would build it “if I have to myself.” Polls show that nearly 60% of Americans agree with the GOP’s position on the TransCanada six-year project.

Senate Democrats brought up more than a few amendments to trip up their Republican colleagues. One brought up earlier in January—“To express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax”—passed with only Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker voting “nay,” as some skeptics of manmade global warming like Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe simply retorted that the climate has “always changed.”

A Republican-introduced amendment specifying that humans play some role in climate change was defeated by one vote, but gave 15 Republicans, including some 2016 swing-staters like New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, Ohio’s Rob Portman and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, the chance to have their views marked on the record.

Republicans and anti-Keystone Democrats lobbied the same middle class vs. special interest critique and used the same State Department report to prove their points. That report shows that the pipeline would indirectly and directly support around 42,000 jobs over two years, but only employ around 50 people once the pipeline was built and functional.

“Right out of the gate the first act of the new Republican majority was to pass a special interest bill that’s a giveaway to foreign oil and steel companies that do nothing to benefit the American people,” said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a member of the Democrats’ leadership team. “Republicans are calling this a jobs bill, but the fact is that the Keystone [pipeline] would create only 35 permanent jobs—a drop in the bucket. A fried chicken franchise creates about as many jobs.”

The years-long, pick-your-own-statistics messaging adds to the point that the Keystone debate has taken on a political significance greater than its actual one. Its long-term economic significance and environmental impact is minimal. But for Congress and the Obama administration, which has also spun off officials to work for groups on both sides, the Keystone pipeline debate has risen to become one of the best-known symbols in the fight over the environment and economy.

TIME Congress

Former CBS Reporter Takes Case Against Obama to Congress

Loretta Lynch Howard Sorority Sisters
Congresswoman Alma S. Adams posted this photo on Jan. 28, 2014. "Supporting Greensboro native, Loretta Lynch, in her confirmation hearing for U.S. Attorney General. #NC12" Alma S. Adams (@RepAdams) via Twitter

Sharyl Attkisson gets a large perch to project her lawsuit's claims

Former CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, a high-profile plaintiff suing the Justice Department for alleged computer hacking, received a national audience on Thursday to project her claims before Congressmen who will chose her defendant’s successor.

As a witness before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, Attkisson broadly knocked the Obama Administration for punishing those who cross it.

“The message has already been received: if you cross the Administration with perfectly accurate reporting that they don’t like: you will be attacked and punished,” she said in her opening remarks. “You and your sources may be subjected to the kind of surveillance devised for enemies of the state.”

But Attkisson also repeated claims that she makes in her case: that forensic investigation confirm “intrusive, long-term remote surveillance” of her work. “That included keystroke monitoring, password capture, use of Skype to listen into audio and exfiltrate files, and more,” she said.

The Justice Department has repeatedly denied any effort to hack Attkisson. “To our knowledge, the Justice Department has never compromised Ms. Attkisson’s computers, or otherwise sought any information from or concerning any telephone, computer or other media device she may own or use,” the Department said in a statement in 2013.

Attkisson is seeking $35 million in damages, alleging that the Administration illegally monitored her work as she reported on the Benghazi attacks, Fast and Furious and Obamacare, according to reports.

The Washington Post reports that of the four witnesses called by Republicans, three are involved in lawsuits against the Administration.

As the hearing commenced, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy objected to using the Lynch confirmation process as a forum for hearing unrelated grievances. “Barack Obama is not the nominee,” said Leahy. “That may come as a surprise to some who heard some of the questions [yesterday.] Eric Holder is not the nominee. Loretta Lynch, the daughter of Lorine and the Rev. Lorenzo Lynch, a U.S. Attorney twice unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate, one who has been applauded for her law enforcement work—that’s who is being called upon to consider.”

Lynch has gained the support of some senior Republicans, including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who called the nominee “exceptionally well qualified and a good person to boot” during the hearing.

 

TIME Congress

Republicans Look to Gain on Obama’s Education Blunder

John Boehner Holds Media Briefing At The Capitol
Speaker of the House John Boehner takes questions during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Jan. 16, 2014 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer—Getty Images

On Tuesday, President Obama dropped his proposal to reform popular college savings plans. On Wednesday, Republicans wouldn’t let him hear the end of it.

“I’m not sure why President Obama would have sought to undermine them in the first place, but it’s certainly good to see the President coming around to Republicans’ pro-middle class view on this matter,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the chamber floor.

“What crazy tax hike scheme will the White House dream up next,” tweeted House Speaker John Boehner.

“Well, that must have polled badly,” taunted the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board.

The proposal—ending a tax break for mostly wealthy families and redistributing the billion dollars saved towards tax breaks for the less well-off—was a part of a broader plan but so politically perilous that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi pressed the President to drop it while aboard Air Force One on Tuesday.

White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz said Wednesday that the proposal was a “distraction” and dropped because it could “jeopardize” a larger education strategy that included $50 billion in tax reforms and a plan to make two years of community college free.

But Republicans will keep the issue in the spotlight. Kansas Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a member of the House GOP leadership, introduced a bill this week with Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind to strengthen the nearly 12 million savings accounts, which are known as 529s. Americans accumulated nearly $245 billion in the plans last year, according to the Investment Company Institute.

“These are particularly important goals as college costs continue to rise and students struggle with extreme amounts of student loan debt,” says Jenkins, who notes that there is a “spotlight” on the issue due to the president’s “misstep.” “We certainly are going to call on him to support [the bill.]”

The bill aims to reduce paperwork, allow students to withdraw from college without a refund penalty and updates the current law by including computers as a qualified expense. Jenkins says that she expects the bill to hit the House floor in a month.

Kind says that the Administration could have done a better job of educating members of its plans ahead of the State of the Union.

“This has become a trusted vehicle for education savings and therefore calling for the tax benefit elimination from 529s seems to be a giant step too far,” he says.

Kind laughed when asked if he thought Republicans would use the President’s fumble to their own political advantage.

“It’s the world in which we live,” he said. “Unfortunately that’s what makes entitlement reform so hard. When you have people honestly trying to put forward some straightforward provisions only to be attacked by the right or the left. That’s what makes developing consensus very difficult.”

TIME Congress

Paul Gets Assist from 2016 Rivals on ‘Audit the Fed’ Bill

Rand Paul speaks at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council meeting in Washington
U.S. Senator Rand Paul speaks during the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council meeting in Washington D.C. on Dec. 2, 2014. Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

The three Republicans senators potentially running for the White House in 2016 agree on at least one thing: The Federal Reserve should be audited.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul re-introduced a bill with Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida on Wednesday to order the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office to review the Fed’s monetary policy decision making and increase congressional oversight.

The bill has a much greater chance of making it to the Senate floor under new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is one of 30 co-sponsors according to Paul’s office. Former Rep. Ron Paul, Rand’s father, pressed lawmakers for years to audit the Federal Reserve and similar bills have passed the Republican-controlled House in the past.

“A complete and thorough audit of the Fed will finally allow the American people to know exactly how their money is being spent by Washington,” said Paul in a statement. “The Fed’s currently operates under a cloak of secrecy and it has gone on for too long. The American people have a right to know what the Federal Reserve is doing with our nation’s money supply. The time to act is now.”

The bill is unlikely to be signed into law by President Obama. In December, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said that she would “forcefully” oppose such legislation as it would jeopardize the central bank’s independence with “short-run political interference,” according to the Hill.

TIME Congress

Partisan Lines Drawn in Congress Over Immigration

John Boehner Holds Media Briefing At The Capitol
Speaker of the House John Boehner takes questions during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Jan. 16, 2014 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer—Getty Images

Republicans prepare to sue the President, while Democrats join together against protest bill.

The deep divisions over illegal immigration were laid bare on Tuesday, as the House GOP discussed how to sue the President over his recent executive actions and Senate Democrats joined together to pressure the new Republican leadership to back down from controversial provisions in a must-pass spending bill next month.

Republicans have struggled to coalesce around a strategy opposing Obama’s November decision to temporarily defer deportations and provide work permits to up to five million people who entered the country illegally. Republicans led the effort to pass a short-term funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security—which enacted the President’s immigration actions—to increase their leverage with the new Republicans Senate.

But after every Senate Democrat signed a letter on Tuesday calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass a DHS bill for the remainder of the fiscal year without the House package’s immigration provisions—including one that would defund Obama’s 2012 program granting deportation relief to young adults who came to the country illegally as children—it’s clear Senate Republicans won’t be able to pass the House’s dream bill. Republicans only control 54 seats in the Senate; they need 60 to pass the bill and 67 to overcome a White House veto. Congress needs to pass a spending bill by February 27 or “nonessential” parts of the agency will shut down.

“The message we are sending today is clear: we should not play politics with critical homeland security resources that keep our country safe,” said New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, who helped orchestrate the Democratic letter. “Protecting our homeland from threats is one of our most important responsibilities here in Congress, and I hope Republicans will put aside partisanship to live up to this responsibility.”

After rejecting the Senate’s bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013, House Republicans said that will consider the issue in a step-by-step approach, starting with border security. But the House GOP leadership pulled its recent bill—led by chief sponsor and Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, who has branded it the “toughest” ever—on Monday due to the blizzard. While there was talk of attaching the bill to the DHS funding package, the bill’s status is now up in the air as conservatives claim credit for sidetracking it. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has said that the bill, which would set new penalties unless the agency prevents all illegal U.S. southern border crossings in five years, is “extreme to the point of being unworkable,” while the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office expects that the agency would be unable to meet the bill’s deadline requirements for “nearly all construction projects.”

Another option Republicans are considering is to sue the Administration over the President’s immigration executive actions. House Speaker John Boehner reportedly told colleagues on Tuesday that the leadership is “finalizing” plans to authorize litigation, but that effort will be time-intensive, potentially expensive, unlikely to address some conservatives’ concerns and could very well not hold up in court. Republicans on the Hill are not alone, however, as 26 states are protesting Obama’s executive actions through a lawsuit.

Last year before Obama announced his executive actions on immigration, Boehner warned Obama that he would “burn himself” if he proceeded. He has since decried the actions as unlawful and unconstitutional. But from here on, he may be left to speeches. After the Senate Democrats’ letter Tuesday, it’s as clear as it has ever been that Republicans have few good options to overturn what they believe is a massive executive overreach.

TIME Congress

Top Democratic Iran Hawk Gives Obama Breathing Room on Talks

US-POLITICS-CONGRESS-HOMELAND SECURITY-JOHNSON
US Senator Robert Menendez speaks at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Nov. 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. Mandel NGan—AFP/Getty Images

A top Democrat and Iran hawk has pledged to not support for a few months an Iran sanctions bill, granting the Administration breathing room as the new Republican Congress looks to pass legislation curbing Iran’s nuclear program.

“Many of my Democratic colleagues and I have sent a letter to the president telling him that we will not support passage of the Kirk-Menendez bill on the Senate floor until after March 24 and only if there is no political framework agreement,” said Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, citing his Republican co-sponsor, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, in a Senate panel hearing. The letter, obtained by Politico, is signed by Democratic supporters of the Kirk sanctions bill, which the letter calls “reasonable and pragmatic.”

The move will end whatever dreams Republicans had of reaching a veto-proof majority for the bill in the near-term and allow the Administration to negotiate as it wants—with less congressional input.

Menendez added that he is “deeply skeptical” that Iran is committed to make the “concessions” necessary to prove to the world that it’s nuclear program is “exclusively peaceful,” but remains “hopeful” that negotiations will work. He said that the Administration has been talking for 18 months yet it still places the odds of a deal below 50-50. Last year the Administration extended talks through June 2015 with the goal of having the major elements of the deal completed by March 24 and its entirety by June 30. A Kirk-Menendez bill wouldn’t go into effect until after the June deadline.

Tony Blinken, the Department of State Deputy Secretary, welcomed the move by Menendez and echoed President Obama, who said in his State of the Union that he would veto new sanction legislation passed by Congress, as it would “all but guarantee that diplomacy fails.”

“I think it recognizes that our negotiators could use the time and space effectively,” he said. “I think the commitment to do that is something that we would see very favorably and would answer a big part of the problem that we had with the idea of legislation—even trigger legislation—being passed now before the end of March.”

The Iran issue is one of many that the Administration and new Republican Congress will fight over this year. The Senate Banking Committee has pledged to have votes on the Kirk-Menendez legislation this week and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker has drafted another proposal that would grant Congress an up-or-down vote on whatever deal the White House reaches with Tehran.

TIME Congress

Reid Plans Return to Capitol After Surgery

Harry Reid Holds Media Availability At The Capitol
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-AZ) speaks during a pen and pad session with reporters at the US Capitol on Jan. 22, 2015 in Washington D.C. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Reid was exercising with rubber bands when one snapped and sent him into cabinets

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid held his first press briefing at the Capitol on Thursday since spending several weeks nursing broken ribs and shattered bones above his right eye. He said that he hopes to come back “full-time” a week from Monday, when he is undergoing eye surgery, and appeared in good spirits.

“I broke four ribs, but that—so minor,” he said. “They’re so meaningless it’s hard to believe.”

Reid fully outlined how he was injured in his new Nevada home on New Year’s Day. “I was doing exercises that I’ve been doing for many years with those large rubber bands and one of them broke and spun me around and I crashed into these cabinets,” he said. “And injured my eye. It didn’t knock me out but it sure hurt. I was taken to the hospital and came back here after a couple of days.”

He declined to answer a question about whether or not he was considering a lawsuit (“Let’s say if I were I wouldn’t be broadcasting it here”) and said the recovery is going well. He is walking for up to an hour now and has been listening to books on tape to rest his good eye. He occasionally takes Tylenol and hasn’t been receiving treatment for his concussion. He also said he appreciated a call from Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will address a joint-session of Congress in March. Reid even opined about the ball-deflation controversy surrounding Sunday’s AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts.

“As far as I know, I can’t believe that the National Football League, worth the billions of dollars they make, couldn’t at least determine how much air should be in a football,” he said. “I don’t know why it should be left up to the teams.”

Reid said he still plans on running for reelection in 2016.

TIME Congress

House GOP Pulls Anti-Abortion Bill on Roe v. Wade Anniversary

The House Republican leadership reversed course on plans to vote on an anti-abortion bill deemed too restrictive by many female lawmakers in its conference, exposing internal party divisions as activists mark the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade with the March for Life.

The bill—the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act—would ban abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Even though a similar bill was passed two years ago, Republican lawmakers raised concerns that this bill included a controversial clause requiring that a woman had to report the rape to police before she could get an abortion. The House will now hold another symbolic vote on a different, old bill that bans taxpayer funding of abortions.

“The reporting requirements I think were problematic,” said Missouri Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who met with House GOP Whip Steve Scalise to air out her concerns this week. “Statistics show that a lot of women who are raped do not report it.”

Hartzler said she hoped that the bill would come back up with altered language that could garner more support. It’s unclear whether or not the current bill could have passed.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has opposed similar legislative proposals based on fetal pain as “not based on sound science.” The bill would be aimed at a minority of abortions, since 92 percent are performed within the first 13 weeks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Conservatives supported the bill in its entirety and expect the leadership to bring it back in some form. Susan B. Anthony List, the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, and Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee officials said they were “disappointed” that there wouldn’t be a vote and would work with the House GOP leadership “to ensure the maximum number of votes” in the future. Conservative RedState activist Erick Erickson called Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, a key figure in opposing the bill’s rape reporting language, the “GOP’s Abortion Barbie.”

“There was a lot of discussion in our retreat [last week] about this and some of the new people did not want to make this the first bill they voted on because the millennials have a little bit of a different take on it,” said Republican Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida. “But you will see it come back because the American people agree with it two to one. It’s a hideous practice. It needs to stop.”

The conservatives’ confidence that the bill will be resurrected would disappoint Democrats like Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, who said that now there is “some grain of hope that the Republican leadership is no longer going to be totally constrained by the wishes of their right-wing friends.”

Other Democrats said the abortion issue plays directly into their “war on women” narrative.

“It’s almost as though they’re creating the strategy for us, bringing up these bills,” New York Rep. Joseph Crowley, vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus told the Hill.

“In contrast to talking about job creation and bigger paychecks, they’re putting a bill on the floor that undermines the health of of America’s women,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a press conference Thursday. “The bill is worse than the bill they pulled from the floor yesterday. That affected thousands of women, maybe, this affects millions of women. It not only affects their health, it affects the personal decisions of how they spend their own money on health insurance.”

Moderate Republicans such as Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent agreed with Pelosi that the GOP should be talking about pocketbook issues instead.

“I would prefer that our party spend less time focusing on these very contentious social issues because that distracts us from broader economic messages where I think we have a much greater appeal to the larger public,” he said.

TIME Congress

Only One Republican Senator Refused to Say ‘Climate Change Is Real’

Senate Luncheons
Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi speaks at a news conference after the Senate luncheons in the Capitol on Jan. 7, 2015 Tom Williams—AP/CQ Roll Call

And another denier of manmade global warming wiggles free of the Democrats' show vote

A Mississippi Republican was the only U.S. Senator to vote against an amendment declaring that climate change is real on Wednesday.

Roger Wicker, the incoming chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was the only no vote. The final vote was 98 to 1, with Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader from Nevada, not voting.

The amendment, introduced by Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, included only 16 words: “To express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax.” It was designed to highlight Republicans’ rhetoric that has run counter to the scientific consensus that the earth has been warming in recent decades.

But the stunt left some of the biggest deniers of manmade global warming some wiggle room. Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, voted for the amendment and asked to be a co-sponsor.

“Climate is changing and climate has always changed and always will,” said Inhofe, author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. “There is archaeological evidence of that, there is biblical evidence of that, there is historical evidence of that. It will always change. The hopes is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate. Man can’t change climate.”

Whitehouse said he hoped the vote would send “a signal” that the Senate “is ready to deal with reality.”

“I almost hate to use my minute because I am so eager to hear what is said during the minute that our energy chairman will follow me with,” said Whitehouse before the vote. “But I’m hoping that after many years of darkness and blockade that this can be a first little vote beam of light through the wall that will allow us to at least start having an honest conversation about what carbon pollution is doing to our climate and to our oceans. This is a matter of vital consequence to my home state … and to many of yours as well.”

Wicker’s office did not reply for comment. In the past, Wicker, the new chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has said that scientific data on rising global temperatures is not conclusive. “President Obama continues to defend his aggressive policies with assertions that global temperatures are on the rise — a notion challenged by scientists and scholars,” he said in a 2013 press release. “The recorded temperatures were much lower than the predictions from climate models often cited by the President and global warming activists.”

TIME State of the Union 2015

Here’s the One State of the Union Talking Point Republicans Liked

A debate over the next round of global trade deals is heating up in Congress this year

About a half-hour into President Obama’s State of the Union a strange thing happened: most of the Republicans jumped up and cheered while most Democrats stayed seated and silent. It was the only time it happened Tuesday night, and the topic was trade.

“China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region,” said Obama. “That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why should we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field.”

“I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense,” added Obama, who earned a brief cheer from democratic socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders before continuing. “But 95% of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities. More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.”

There are few areas of agreement between Obama and the new Republican Congress, but trade promotion authority, or TPA, which would ease the passage of the 12-country Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, potentially the largest free trade agreement ever, is one of them. For years the Administration has been negotiating TPP—affecting about 40% of the world’s GDP and about a third of the world’s trade—but so far Obama has yet to prove to Republicans that he is willing to spend the time, effort and political capital to get it done. But on Tuesday night, the Republicans’ response to his message was ecstatic.

The Republican Senate and House whips, Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, said that the trade talk was “probably one of the brightest spots” and “the most promising part” of the speech. Other top Republicans who criticize Obama around the clock, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said they hoped the President would now push the issue. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, the most senior member, said Obama’s remarks were “welcome but long overdue.”

In 1993, President Bill Clinton led an all-out push to get the massive North America trade deal through Congress. There were face-to-face White House meetings with Congressmen, White House envoys roaming the Hill, and 37 Commerce Department reports targeting industries “from computers to autos,” according to a Christian Science Monitor report, that helped show Congressmen how NAFTA would help their constituents. In October of that year, former CEO of the Chrysler Corporation, Lee Iacocca, stood on the White House South Lawn with hundreds of products (and businessmen) touting what the Administration believed would thrive under NAFTA. Under the white tents, Clinton joked to a pro-trade union man that he would wear the man’s company hat if he gave a speech. A month later, the House passed the bill in a squeaker and the Senate did shortly thereafter.

This time around, Republicans are hoping for another all-out Administration effort on TPP and the “fast-track” bill, which would allow limited congressional debate, no amendments, and an up-or-down vote. The Administration says such a bill is vital to pass TPP, as countries would be less willing to negotiate if they knew Congress could make large changes to the deal. But liberals are livid with Obama’s trade talk; they set up a press conference Wednesday to air out their concerns.

“The typical business plan in this country because of trade and tax policies: You shut down production in Cleveland and you move it to Beijing and sell the products back to the United States,” said Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown after the State of the Union. “That makes no sense. And he’s wrong on that as his predecessors were.”

“If you think that previous trade agreements. . . have done well, you should support the TPP,” said Sanders. “But if you believe, as I do, that they have been disastrous, that they have cost us millions of decent paying jobs, then it make no sense to go forward in a failed policy and it should be defeated. . . . At the end of the day, among many other concerns, American workers are going to be forced to compete against people in Vietnam who make a minimum wage of 56 cents an hour.”

Still pro-trade lawmakers like Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill believe that Obama can bring “enough” Democrats to pass a “fast-track” trade bill. Democratic Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, who supported the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993 but opposed the more recent trade agreement bills with South Korea, Panama and Columbia, said Obama “probably” has the votes now to pass a TPA bill through Congress, although it’s easier in the Senate than House, where some conservatives have also raised an uproar about giving more power to the President.

The White House has recently increased its outreach efforts, tasking every Cabinet member to divvy up and target 80 House Democrats, according to the Hill newspaper. In an email Wednesday, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told TIME that the trade agenda is a “top priority” for the Administration. “We are taking an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to getting this done,” she said. “We are all out talking not only to members of Congress but to business leaders and workers around the country, telling the story of why trade and exports matter.”

The United State Trade Representative office touts that over nearly five years it has held over 1,600 congressional briefings on TPP. United States Trade Ambassador Michael Froman rebutted liberals’ concerns in a press conference on Wednesday, saying that manufacturing jobs are coming back from overseas and that export-related jobs pay 13 to 18 percent more than other jobs. “It gives us the opportunity to protect workers, protect the environment and level the playing field,” said Froman of TPP.

Still, Obama has a ways to go in getting broad support for both TPA and TPP. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a member of the Democratic leadership and Finance Committee, says “many of us wouldn’t support” TPA unless it addressed some China-related concerns. And the top Democrat on the influential Ways and Means Committee, Michigan Rep. Sandy Levin, says the Administration, Congress and outside groups need to immediately “tear apart” other outstanding issues, including those related to the environment and currency manipulation.

“I think it’s a mistake essentially to say let’s fast-track a package when there isn’t a real understanding of the issues and their resolution,” he said. “So that should be the focus right now and that will be the strong basis for getting bipartisan support. If we don’t do that, I don’t think there’s a chance that there will be bipartisan support.”

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