TIME global trade

House Passes Final Parts of Obama’s Trade Agenda

John Boehner
Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 25, 2015.

The completion of trade agenda will renew the job retraining program for workers displaced by international trade

(WASHINGTON) — The Republican-led Congress completed President Barack Obama’s trade package Thursday, overwhelmingly passing a worker training program just weeks after it was stymied.

The House voted 286 to 138 to renew the job retraining program for workers displaced by international trade. Obama had said he wanted to sign that bill alongside the “fast track” negotiating authority that Congress approved a day earlier.

Usually a Democratic priority, the retraining bill briefly became hostage to Democrats’ failed efforts to block fast track.

The House measure also renews the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Obama and his trade opponents are shifting their focus to proposed trade agreements under negotiation for years. The first, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, involves the United States, Japan, Canada and nine other Pacific-rim nations.

The fast-track law allows Congress to ratify or reject such agreements, but not change or filibuster them.

Most House Democrats, along with major labor unions, opposed fast track, saying free-trade pacts send U.S. jobs abroad.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday’s votes mark “the end of phase one” in the trade debate, but “the fight will continue.” The next step, she said, is “to shine a sharp, clear, bright light” on details of the Pacific-rim proposal.

Passage of the trade bills mark a huge win for the president, and one paradoxically spearheaded by Republicans. And it’s a defeat for the AFL-CIO and unions and environmental groups that fiercely opposed it. Some have vowed to punish the relatively small number of congressional Democrats who opposed them.

But Obama — much like the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton — portrays expanded trade as crucial in a global, high-tech economy. Most Republicans agree, but most congressional Democrats, especially in the House, do not.

Trade has opened the most striking breach between a Democratic president and the lawmakers who overwhelmingly backed him on health care and other hard-fought issues.

Pelosi and fellow House Democrats dealt Obama a humiliating rebuke on June 12, when they derailed his trade package only hours after he traveled to the Capitol to personally ask for their help. The House voted 302-126 that day to reject the job retraining portion of the package. Nearly half the “no” votes came from Democrats.

Republican leaders, with White House support, restructured the legislative package and passed fast track with big GOP margins, plus modest Democratic support.

On Thursday, only six House Democrats voted against the job retraining program. Among Republicans, 132 voted against the program, and 111 voted for it.

Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said some Democrats had questioned Republicans’ promises to support the job retraining program even after fast track was secured.

To pass the trade legislation, Ryan, R-Wis., told House colleagues before Thursday’s vote, “We needed a little bit of trust. We are here today to keep our word.”

TIME global trade

Obama’s Trade Agenda Survives Key Senate Procedural Vote

Barack Obama
Pablo Martinez Monsivais — AP President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

White House trade agenda clears key legal hurdle on its way to becoming law

(WASHINGTON) — The Senate pushed bipartisan trade legislation to the brink of final approval Tuesday in a combined effort by President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders to rescue a measure that appeared all but dead less than two weeks ago.

The legislation cleared a key hurdle on a 60-37 vote, precisely the number needed.

A final vote is expected by Wednesday on the House-passed measure, which would then go to the White House for Obama’s signature.

It is one of several measures comprising Obama’s second-term trade agenda as the administration works to finalize a 12-nation agreement among countries on both sides of the Pacific Ocean

Another bill, to provide federal aid to workers who lose their jobs because of imports, is also awaiting approval. The rescue plan hatched last week calls for the Senate to pass that measure and the House to follow suit later this week, just before lawmakers begin a July 4 vacation.

Eager to reassure Democrats who expressed doubt about a GOP commitment to pass the follow-up bill, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement saying the House will vote on it “once it passes the Senate.”

The legislation has the support of the administration and business organizations, who say it is necessary to win lower barriers to U.S-made goods around the world.

Opponents include organized labor and most Democrats in Congress, who argue that past global trade deals have resulted in the large scale loss of American jobs — and claim this time would be no different.

Those differences were reflected on the Senate floor.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the vote demonstrated “we can work together on something that’s important for our country.”

But Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said it would be a “day of celebration in corporate suites.”

The vote in the Senate was similar to an earlier roll call on the same legislation.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a presidential hopeful, flipped his vote from support to opposition, saying it had become “enmeshed in corporate backroom deal making.”

He did not say why he initially voted for it.

Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, voted against advancing the bill after supporting its passage on the earlier vote. His office provided no immediate explanation for the shift.

In all 47 Republicans and 13 Democrats joined forces to assure the bill’s progress.

The negotiating authority that Obama seeks is known as “fast-track.” Most recent presidents have said the same power. Without it, the bill’s supporters say, other nations would be highly reluctant to make the type of compromises that are necessary to seal global trade deals, because they fear that Congress would demand additional concessions.

The week’s maneuvering came a little less than two weeks after the House derailed the trade legislation in a revolt triggered by union-backed Democrats and supported by the party’s leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.

Originally, the trade negotiating authority and program of aid for displaced workers were part of one bill, but subject to separate votes.

Democrats who normally support the aid turned against it in the House, and voted it down. That temporarily derailed the entire legislation, sending Obama, McConnell and Boehner scurrying to come up with a rescue plan.

The revised approach was to separate the trade bill from the aid measure, and rely on a strong Republican vote to pass one of them, and a strong Democratic show of support to approve the other.

Obama has said consistently he wants both measures to reach his desk, but House Democrats have not yet said if they will try to block the aid program as part of a desperate move to persuade Obama not to sign the trade bill he so eagerly seeks.

Nor has Obama said what he would do if only the trade bill passes, and the aid measure remains stuck because Democrats without support.

TIME politics

House Passes ‘Fast Track’ Bill to Resurrect Obama Trade Agenda

John Boehner
Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP In this June 11, 2015 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Upcoming vote in the Senate could be a tough battle

(WASHINGTON) — The House has revived President Barack Obama’s embattled trade agenda. But a potentially tough Senate battle awaits.

The House voted 218 to 208 Thursday to grant Obama “fast track” authority to send Congress trade agreements it can reject or ratify but not change.

The Republican-driven vote marks a dramatic turnabout from last week’s stunning setback dealt to Obama by House Democrats. This time fast track was separated from another matter that the Democrats had used to scuttle the whole package.

The GOP-controlled Senate could take up the issue next week. The bill needs help from about a dozen Democrats. They want assurance that Congress also will renew federal aid for workers displaced by international trade.

Unions strongly oppose fast track. Obama says U.S. producers need it.

TIME politics

House Republicans Help Bring Obama’s Trade Bill Back to Life

John Boehner
Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP In this June 11, 2015 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The vote would give Obama authority to negotiate global trade deals that Congress can approve or reject, but not change

(WASHINGTON) — In close cooperation with President Barack Obama, House Republicans worked to revive the administration’s trade agenda on Thursday, nearly a week after it was left for dead by rebellious Democrats backed by organized labor.

Legislation to strengthen Obama’s hand in trade talks is part of “expanding our influence in a critical part of the world,” Rep. George Holding, R-N.C., said as in advance of a re-vote on a measure the administration seeks to facilitate a 12-nation deal involving Japan and 11 other countries bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Democrats fought the measure, as they have for months, for fear it would lead to the loss of U.S. jobs overseas. “Let’s kill this donkey once and for all,” said Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md.

Despite opposition from labor-backed lawmakers, the measure easily cleared a preliminary hurdle, 244-181.

The House debate and vote marked the beginning of an extraordinary rescue operation that the White House and GOP leaders in Congress hope will result in passage of a pair of bills by the end of next week.

The measure on the House floor would give Obama authority to negotiate global trade deals that Congress can approve or reject, but not change. Other recent presidents have had the same prerogative Obama seeks, known as “fast-track.”

Separately, a bill to renew an expiring program of aid for workers who lose their jobs because of imports will move quickly.

“We are committed to ensuring both … get votes in the House and Senate and are sent to the president for signature,” House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a joint statement issued Wednesday in an attempt to reassure pro-trade Democrats whose votes will be needed.

At the White House, Obama met separately with Democrats lawmakers inclined to support the legislation.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had no comment on the day’s events. The California Democrat joined the revolt last week in which her party’s rank-and-file lawmakers helped vote down the aid package that they customarily support, calculating their actions would prevent the entire trade package from reaching Obama’s desk.

Supporters of the president’s agenda argue that the United States must stay involved in international trade, in part because otherwise, countries like China will write the rules to their own advantage. The administration’s immediate negotiating objective is a round of talks involving 12 countries in Asia, North America and South America.

Organized labor and other opponents of international trade deals say they cost thousands of American workers their jobs by shifting employment to foreign countries with low wages, poor working conditions and lax environmental standards.

Officials in Congress said Boehner and McConnell hope to have both the trade and the aid legislation to the president by the time lawmakers begin a scheduled vacation at the end of next week.

Obama has not spoken in public in the past two days about the attempt to resurrect his trade bills, nor have White House officials disclosed many details of his role in putting together the rescue attempt. McConnell and Boehner both said on Tuesday that they had spoken with the president on the phone, but they offered little by way of details.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that “The only legislative strategy that the president can support is one that will result in both pieces of legislation arriving at his desk.”

Earnest also predicted that all of the 28 pro-trade House Democrats would be willing to follow the rescue strategy, as long as the aid package makes it to the White House after it is separated from the trade measure.

One of the lawmakers, Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia, concurred.

“My sense is that there aren’t going to be a lot of cracks in the 28 who voted yes last time,” he said.

Some congressional Democrats said they wanted the president to sign both bills at the same time.

Earnest didn’t pledge that, saying, “There’s also this fundamental question … about whether or not they have to arrive at the same time, on the same day, as part of the same legislative vehicle or separately, that’s exactly what’s being discussed on Capitol Hill.”

___

AP reporter Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this story.

TIME global trade

House Democrats Derail ‘Fast Track’ Trade Measure in Blow to Obama

US-POLITICS-TRADE-OBAMA
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images Anti-trade protestors hold banners outside of the Cannon House Office Building as US President Barack Obama arrived on Capitol Hill to lobby House Democrats on June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC.

The path forward for Obama’s trade agenda, his top legislative priority, is hardly clear

President Obama suffered a stunning defeat Friday when fellow Democrats in the House hobbled his push for a legacy-defining Pacific Rim trade deal.

House Democrats used a tactical maneuver to deny Obama the fast-track negotiating authority he needs to finalize that pact, sinking a worker assistance program that’s become a precondition for Democratic support of such agreements. The vote was 126-302.

The path forward for Obama’s trade agenda, his top legislative priority, is hardly clear. “I don’t think anybody knows,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), a member of House Democratic leadership, said after the vote.

Complicating the outlook, House Republicans managed to eek out a majority for the fast-track power itself following the implosion on the worker assistance funding. But procedural rules prohibit GOP leaders from taking only part of the package, which already passed the Senate, and sending it along to the White House for the president’s signature.

Republicans indicated Friday afternoon that they are looking to bring the legislation back up for another vote early next week, and the Obama administration needs to use the weekend to change scores of minds among the Democratic ranks.

In the meantime, Republican leaders appeared happy to heap blame on the White House for botching a key priority they shared. “The president has not only faded, he’s irrelevant, and he proved it again today,” Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said.

The setback also marks a humbling blow to the corporate lobby, which marshaled all its muscle — including a multi-million dollar media campaign and a newly organized program to enlist workers’ voices in the debate — to try to overcome a raucous, bruising effort by labor unions to turn Democrats against the White House.

But the loss comes with a personal sting for Obama, considering he launched a rare, last minute blitz to twist arms in his own ranks. He made an unannounced appearance at Nationals Park baseball stadium on Thursday night to buttonhole lawmakers there for an annual Congressional game, and then he trekked up to the Capitol on Friday morning to make a final appeal to Democrats in a closed-door meeting.

The program that Democrats voted down — officially, Trade Adjustment Assistance — provides extended unemployment benefits and job retraining for workers laid off as a result of expanded trade. Most Republicans view it as welfare and oppose it. But with the trade agenda’s fate hinging on the worker assistance funding, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — two of the most powerful business lobbies, both of which typically lean right — put lawmakers on notice that groups will be factoring how they voted into the scorecards they use to determine their election-season support.

The pressure evidently didn’t change many minds, though it highlighted again how the odd politics of the issue scramble traditional allegiances. That dynamic was on display Friday morning in the subterranean room in the Capitol Visitors Center where Obama delivered a final appeal to House Democrats. The president made an impassioned case that the economic benefits of his trade program will be widely shared, attendees said, and he argued that his record of sticking up for working families should earn him some good faith from members of his own party. But walking out, Obama telegraphed to reporters that he knew he hadn’t closed the sale. “I don’t think you ever nail anything down around here. It’s always moving,” he said.

For one, the president undercut his cause by appearing to question the integrity of Democrats who’d line up against a worker assistance program they otherwise support to take down the broader package. “There were a number of us who were insulted by the approach,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) told reporters after the meeting. “He said you’re not playing it straight if you vote against TAA but you supported in the past and you’ll support it in the future. That’s questioning someone’s integrity. We’re legislators, and it’s the only legislative tool we have to stop something that is otherwise inevitable.”

Likewise, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said he didn’t consider the Democratic move a legislative maneuver, “but even if it was, we engage in legislative maneuvers all the time.” One giveaway about the stakes, he said: “Every lobbyist here in Washington whose job it is to increase profits is for this deal. And every lobbyist in town whose job it is to increase wages is against this deal.”

Democratic objections run deep, a fact that may make it impossible for the White House to salvage the package in just a few days. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.)—the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, which overseas trade—stood off the House floor on Friday afternoon surrounded by reporters and ran through a litany of substantive problems with the Trans Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation pact that Obama wants the negotiating ability to finalize. Fast-track authority would allow him to wrap up the deal and submit it to Congress for a simple up-or-down vote, meaning lawmakers would not be able to amend it. Levin said from what he’s seen of the trade deal’s language, the administration has retreated from some critical priorities—and he views the wrangling over the negotiating package as leverage to force the administration’s hand on those matters.

Wherever the debate leads, the collapse of the administration’s agenda at the hands of its erstwhile Congressional foot soldiers was historic. Compounding Obama’s abasement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—a typically reliable lieutenant — remained publicly uncommitted in the weeks leading up the vote only to announce her opposition on the House floor moments before it began. “Our people would rather have a job than trade adjustment assistance,” she said. “Today, we have an opportunity to slow down.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME Civil Rights

House Republican Leader Headed to Selma

Kevin McCarthy will be the highest ranking Republican member of Congress to attend the "Bloody Sunday" commemoration. Republican leaders were criticized Friday for being absent from the event

In a reversal of plans, Kevin McCarthy, the second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, will join around 100 members of Congress who are gathering in Alabama this weekend to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” Before McCarthy’s announcement, no members of the Republican leadership in Congress had been scheduled to attend the event.

Rep. McCarthy, the House Majority Leader, changed his plans late Friday, after a day of widespread media coverage of the lack of Republican leadership in the congressional delegation.

President Obama is scheduled to speak Saturday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., to honor the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights march that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA,) Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA,) Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) are among the bipartisan coalition led by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) in his annual Civil Rights pilgrimage with the Faith & Politics Institute. Lewis was one of the student protestors on the bridge in 1965, and was in the crowd that was attacked by police for demanding voting rights.

In remarks to members of Congress traveling with Lewis Friday evening, Portman recalled how Lewis convinced him to attend the event at the White House Christmas Party last year. Pelosi told the audience that the event was “not even bipartisan– it’s nonpartisan.”

As many as 100,000 people are expected to convene in Selma Saturday to hear the President speak.

TIME People

Former KKK Leader May Run for Steve’s Scalise’s House Seat

Former Klansman and congressional candidate David Duke discusses his bid for the seat opened by Rep. Bob Livingston during NBC's ''Meet the Press'' on March 28, 1999 in Washington.
Richard Ellis—Getty Images Former Klansman and congressional candidate David Duke discusses his bid for the seat opened by Rep. Bob Livingston during NBC's ''Meet the Press'' on March 28, 1999 in Washington.

Slams Scalise for apologizing

The third-ranking House Republican may get a chance to differentiate himself from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke once and for all.

Just as he started his tenure as House Majority Whip last month, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana faced a controversy when a blogger uncovered that he had spoken to a white supremacist group founded by Duke. Scalise later apologized and argued he was led astray by poor staff work. “It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold,” he said in his apology.

Now, it looks like Scalise may get a chance to show exactly how much he disagrees with Duke, as the former Klan leader is considering running against him for Congress.

Duke told Louisiana radio host Jim Engster he would consider running against Scalise after he tried to distance himself from EURO “This guy is a sell out,” Duke said. “Why in the world would he apologize? He said specifically that he shouldn’t have gone to European American United Rights Organization, that he shouldn’t have done it, it was a terrible mistake. What he’s basically saying is that 60% of his district, the same people who voted for him, that they’re just a bunch of racists.”

Duke noted that his own political priorities were more consistent with Scalise’s constituents, which he described as “opposed to the massive illegal immigration, opposed to welfare reform.”

“He can’t meet with members of his own district who have opinions like I have, but he’ll meet with radical blacks who have totally opposite political positions,” Duke said.

The former Grand Wizard of the KKK also said that school integration was to blame for America’s education problems. “I think our diversity is our downfall,” he said, before launching into a diatribe about how “European-Americans” are underrepresented at Harvard.

 

TIME state of the union

Here’s What John Boehner Said About Joe Biden’s Suit at Last Year’s State of the Union

"He was stepping out a little bit and I wanted him to know"

There are sure to be some buzzworthy moments during Tuesday’s State of the Union address, with cameras picking up lawmakers’ reactions and interactions during the live telecast.

After all, the Twitter conversation has become an increasingly large part of the State of the Union. Last year, House Speaker John Boehner inspired a flurry of tweets when he adjusted Vice President Joe Biden’s suit.

On Tuesday, Boehner shared the story behind the image. The Ohio congressman says he just thought Biden looked good.

“His suit and tie looked pretty nice, fancy,” Boehner says. “I wanted him to know that I noticed that I thought he was stepping out a little bit with his fancy suit.”

TIME The Brief

#TheBrief: Meet the Freshman Class in Congress

The House will welcome 58 mostly Republican freshmen

Congress will swear in its most diverse group of lawmakers in U.S. history this week.

The newly formed group’s demographic breakdown is as follows: 104 women; 100 black, Asian, Native American, or Hispanic members; and Congress’ first black female Republican.

Age is also a diversifying factor. The youngest women elected to congress will be joining at 30-years-old, and several other young lawmakers will be joining her.

To find out more about the newest lawmakers in D.C. watch #TheBrief.

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: From California’s Pineapple Express to Another Shutdown Drama

Watch this week's #KnowRightNow to catch up on all the latest stories

The House passed a $1.1 trillion spending package late Thursday to ensure that the government will avoid another damaging shutdown. “This compromise proposal merits bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and hopefully will arrive on the President’s desk in the next few days, and if it does, he will sign it,” stated White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

A tropical storm called the Pineapple Express pummeled the Pacific Northwest on Thursday. In drought-stricken California, flooding and mudslides prompted rare school closures in the north of the state. Powerful winds knocked out power to more than 150,000 homes in Washington.

Gas prices hit a 4-year low this week, with the average price of gas in the United States sinking to $2.72 per gallon. That’s the lowest gas prices have been since November 2010. Prices are dropping due to higher North American oil production and less demand. New Mexico has the lowest gas prices at $2.38 per gallon, and San Francisco has the highest gas prices at $3.04 per gallon.

And lastly, on Wednesday, TIME Magazine chose the Ebola fighters as 2014’s Person of the Year. “They risked and persisted, sacrificed, and saved,” TIME editor Nancy Gibbs wrote.

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