President Obama is finding that his last ditch attempts at personal persuasion just isn’t cutting it.
Democrats bucked the White House line on the Obama’s trade agenda, rejecting a critical element in the House of Representatives despite the president’s own engagement and lobbying on the issue.
It was less than 24 hours ago that the president was glad-handing members of Congress at the Congressional baseball game, where he dropped by to urge passage of his trade bills.
At issue were two measures: The Trade Adjustment Assistance bill, which provides help to workers negatively affected by free trade, and the Trade Promotion Authority, which allows the president to get a straight up-or-down Congressional vote on negotiated trade deals, without amendments. Both needed to pass for the president’s trade agenda to advance.
The president made phone calls, and senior White House officials lobbied furiously to get Democrats to support the package. Obama even added an additional personal touch on Friday morning, appearing on Capitol Hill in dramatic fashion to urge his fellow Democrats to support the trade package before them.
It proved to be too little too late: President Obama hasn’t had a great relationship with Congress. Even those in his own party have been open critical of his lack of Congressional outreach and his administration’s reluctance to bring them in the loop on issues of importance until the very last minute.
As he walked around in the Capitol, he was flanked by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has been a loyal teammate in the past.
Shortly after bidding the president adieu, she rebuked the president’s initiatives. “I will be voting to slow down fast-track,” Pelosi said before she proceeded to do just that.
Approval of the Trade Promotion Authority, also known as ‘fast-track’ is critical for the president, to allow him to conclude free trade deals with countries in the Asia-Pacific, a cornerstone of his foreign policy ambitions in the region.
Many Democrats favor the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill, but saw its failure as the only way to prevent the president’s free trade plans.
With just 126 voting in favor and 302 members of Congress voting against the TAA, Democrats expressed forceful disagreement with the president’s plan to advance free trade agreements.
The left hailed the result as a victory for their grassroots activists, who have opposed the trade authority on the basis that it would kill jobs in the United States and be a net negative for the environment.
“We’re under no illusion that this is the end of the fight,” said Jim Dean, chair of the progressive Democracy for America. “The fight against this job-killing trade deal will not rest until the TPP and Fast Track are dead, buried, and covered in six-inches of concrete.”
Friends of the Earth, another progressive group, said that Friday’s vote was a “significant victory” for those who oppose “toxic trade agreements.”
Still, it’s not quite over yet.
The House of Representatives could revisit the issue again next weekend, allowing the White House additional time to make an additional round of lobbying to press the trade package’s passage.
The bright side for Obama? He has just under 600 days to go.