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.

TIME

Dem Frenemies: Pelosi, Hoyer Again on Opposite Sides of a Leadership Debate

Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer
Susan Walsh—AP House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., followed by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Md., arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014, to introduce the Democratic leadership team for the 114th Congress. )

Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are backing rival candidates to be top Democrat on the powerful Energy and Commerce committee

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives re-elected Nancy Pelosi of California as Minority Leader and Steny Hoyer of Maryland as Minority Whip on Tuesday with little drama, according to House members who took part in the vote. But the apparent comity hides the re-emergence of a long-simmering competition between the top two Democrats over lower level spots in their Congressional roster.

With leadership votes expected for key committees as soon as Wednesday, the race to replace retiring powerhouse Rep. Henry Waxman as top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce committee has turned into a test of influence between Pelosi and Hoyer.

For months, California Rep. Anna Eshoo and New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone have been competing for votes to serve as the next ranking member of the powerful committee, which has authority over a large part of the U.S. economy and traditionally plays an outsized role in investigations and oversight.

Pelosi backs her longtime friend and ally, Eshoo, sending letters to colleagues urging them to support her fellow Californian since shortly after Eshoo’s announcement. Eshoo’s priorities, Pelosi says, align with the “future of America’s vibrant and competitive environment.”

Hoyer has been stumping for Pallone, though not nearly as openly as Pelosi. Aside from touting Pallone’s work on the committee, Hoyer embraces the system of seniority that traditionally, but not inevitably, gives preference to longer-serving members of Congress. Pallone is currently the number three Democrat on Energy and Commerce, while Eshoo is the fifth-most senior member on the panel.

“A major component [of the Eshoo-Pallone fight] is the proxy war between Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer,” says a House Democratic aide.

Pelosi and Hoyer have a long-running rivalry. Both interned for Sen. Daniel Brewster in the 1960s, and later joined each other in the House or Representatives. In 2001, they duked it out for a seat in the Democratic leadership and though both insisted they had they votes to become the Minority Whip, Pelosi won the job. In 2002, she became the Democratic leader and the first woman to serve as a party leader in Congress. In 2006, after Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and Pelosi was boosted to Speaker of the House, she backed Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania for the number two spot, despite Hoyer’s candidacy for the job. Hoyer beat Murtha 149 to 86.

Many thought Hoyer would take on Pelosi when Democrats faced their brutal loss in 2010, but he told Politico that year he never considered challenging her for the seat: “Obviously, [Pelosi] had to make a decision on whether she could be an effective leader. I think she can.”

Hoyer, a centrist, has found common cause with some liberals in the Eshoo-Pallone fight. Members of Congressional Black and Congressional Hispanic Caucuses support the elevation of Pallone because they think seniority should decide who takes on leadership roles in committee. “Those who through years of service have gained significant expertise and knowledge should be given priority to lead our committees and sub-committees,” wrote Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio in a recent letter to colleagues.

Some House Democratic aides, however, insist it isn’t a proxy fight; Hoyer supports Pallone because he respects the work he’s done. “This race ultimately comes down to personal relationships,” one senior aide says.

House Democrats are scheduled to vote on the committee position early Wednesday.

-With reporting by Alex Rogers

TIME Congress

John Dingell, Longest-Serving U.S. Representative, Is Hospitalized

John Dingell
Lauren Victoria Burke—AP Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 7, 2014

The 88-year-old Congressman expects to be back in Washington next week

Congressman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) was admitted Monday to Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital with abdominal pain, his office announced.

“Dingell is doing well, is receiving an IV treatment of antibiotics, and remains in good spirits,” wrote Christopher Schuler, Dingell’s communications director, in a public statement. “Doctors expect him to be released in a few days, and Dingell expects to be in Washington for Congressional session next week.”

Dingell, 88, has served in Congress since 1955, making him the longest serving representative in congressional history. His wife Deborah is running to succeed him in office after he retires this year.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 25

1. Slavery’s long shadow is inextricably linked to modern income inequality in the south.

By Stephen Mihm in the Boston Globe

2. Superdistricts in the House of Representatives could end the tyranny of incumbency in Congress.

By Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post

3. Yelp the Police: Georgia teens build an app to rate law enforcement interactions.

By Rebecca Borison in Business Insider

4. The new Egyptian government’s policies of repression and exclusion could push citizens into the arms of extremist groups.

By Michele Dunn and Scott Williamson at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

5. Transforming oil and gas rigs into artificial reefs could save the delicate ecosystems formed around the structures.

By Amber Jackson in Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Congress

Eric Cantor and John Boehner: The Bromance Is Over

As told through the lyrics of Alan Jackson's "Remember When"

On Thursday, Congressman Eric Cantor will step down from his post as House majority leader, following his shocking primary defeat in June, thus ending his Capitol Hill bromance with House Speaker John Boehner — a relationship that captivated so many hearts across the nation.

When Cantor first assumed the role of HML in 2011, some speculated that the up-and-comer was angling for Boehner’s job, but the GOP’s two top dogs were not to be defined by acrimony — after all, what good romance doesn’t begin with a little tension? (Have you seen The Notebook?)

Here, we’ve assembled a scrapbook that illustrates the bromance heard round the Beltway, each photo captioned with a lyric from Alan Jackson’s “Remember When,” because obviously. It is highly advisable to play the song as you click through the photos.

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