Translation: I’m desperate to keep from looking impotent here, guys. But is Barack Obama so desperate that he’s willing to lose Republicans with this declaration of a vote of confidence?
By making a rare, last-ditch visit to Capitol Hill, President Barack Obama’s message to House Democrats was clear and simple: The trade deal they’re in danger of voting down is about him.
The unscheduled lobbying trip to the Hill on Friday morning was Obama’s first in nearly two years and it put his reputation on the line in an unusually personal way. He met privately with the entire House Democratic caucus, and made what one lawmaker described as a “powerful presentation.” …
For weeks, Democrats in the House and Senate supporting the legislation, as well as those on the fence looking to get to “yes” out of loyalty to the president, had been begging Obama to identify himself more explicitly with the fast-track authority he needed to finalize the trade pact — make this “Barack Obama’s trade deal,” not just Trade Promotion Authority, they said.
Obama only slowly came around, relying on individual and small group appeals behind closed doors, and on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to help line up the votes they’d need to make up for Republican defections.
One reason why Obama wouldn’t have made this kind of appeal earlier is because it would have alienated Republicans who are going along with TAA to get free trade. Most of those Republicans are already facing pressure over “Obamatrade,” and validating Obama’s executive overreach. How many of them will stick around now that Obama’s turned this into an explicit vote of confidence in his presidency?
Pelosi may win a few votes, but don’t be surprised if she loses more than she finds.
In fact, it didn’t make the sale among Democrats either, the Wall Street Journal reports, as Obama’s argument still comes down to just trusting him:
Mr. Obama grounded his message in personal experience, telling lawmakers that his actions were aimed at lifting up American workers. But many Democrats remained opposed to the fast-track bill Friday morning, and some said Mr. Obama’s argument relied on simply trusting him.
“The president said, ‘I know steelworkers in the South Side of Chicago who lost their jobs and everything I do is for them.’ Well, I was born and raised in Detroit and I represent Minneapolis, so I don’t really think his emotional tie to displaced workers is greater than mine or anybody else’s,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, who plans to oppose both key trade measures Friday. “I really disagree with him on this more and more.”
This has always been a potential vote of no confidence in Obama among Democrats. Obama’s argument has been all along that the country can trust him to deal alone on trade. Republicans supporting TPA offer a much different argument — that it’s not about trust since they can still torpedo the agreement in the Senate if they don’t like it. Democrats, though, have to go on trust because they have less influence over a ratification vote when it comes. And it’s becoming abundantly clear that Democrats simply have no confidence in Obama.
Update: It sounds as though Obama didn’t even make the sale with Pelosi:
Pelosi: "Why are we fast-tracking trade and slow-walking the highway bill."
— Jonathan Allen (@jonallendc) June 12, 2015
"Whatever the deal is w other countries, we want a better deal for American workers," @NancyPelosi says, calling for slow walk of trade bill
— lesley clark (@lesleyclark) June 12, 2015
Hmmmm. It’s looking as though Obama’s in for a huge disappointment this afternoon. Stay tuned.
Update: Looking grimmer by the minute for the White House:
— The Hill (@thehill) June 12, 2015
heds for if TPA fails: "The Humbling of a President""The Incredible Shrinking President""POTUS Interruptus" "Dems to Obama: Drop Dead."
— Ben White (@morningmoneyben) June 12, 2015
Pelosi just handed #GOP huge gift, they can say POTUS can't even keep his own house in order to create jobs, help biz etc.
— Luke Russert (@LukeRussert) June 12, 2015
But the best comment so far is ….
Strangely, @NancyPelosi not willing to pass a bill to see what's in it.
— WhiteHousePressCorps (@whpresscorps) June 12, 2015