After getting humiliated by his own party on the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill that would give Barack Obama the fast-track authority he seeks for a trans-pacific free-trade agreement, the President spent the weekend working the phones as well as the four-iron, according to Josh Earnest yesterday. He twisted arms, cajoled, and tried to persuade House Democrats to breathe life into the vote on the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) portion of the bill that Democrats torpedoed in order to get the Senate version to his desk. With a potential revote as early as today, Obama’s pressure had a significant impact. It got the vote pushed out all the way to the end of July:
President Obama and his momentary Republican allies in Congress mulled several difficult choices Monday for rescuing trade legislation into which the president has invested a massive amount of political capital in the hope of completing a 12-nation trade deal across the Pacific Rim.
After successful Democratic efforts to block the president’s trade package, Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke by phone and consulted their respective top lieutenants as they tried to find a path to success, according to senior aides. Their first call was to abandon plans for a second vote Tuesday on a piece of legislation that must also pass for the entire package to advance to Obama’s desk. Given the grim outcome for Obama of the first vote on Friday — 302 against and 126 in favor — they stood no chance for turning nearly 100 votes in four days.
Instead, Boehner decided to impose a temporary rule that, if approved Tuesday, will allow him until July 30 to bring up the trade debate at any time for a do-over of the stalled companion legislation to the trade package. If successful, Boehner will have bought an additional six weeks to find a way out of the mess.
Well, it’s not Boehner’s mess that needs cleaning up. Boehner delivered enough Republicans to pass TAA, which is a traditional Democratic priority, and got enough of his own caucus to get the TPA portion of the Senate’s package passed, albeit barely. Obama failed to deliver Democrats, and the weekend push didn’t move them at all. Bloomberg’s analysts scoffed at Josh Earnest’s Chip Diller appearance yesterday, and say this is more than just a snafu:
House Democrats actually pushed back a bit on Earnest’s contention about Obama working the phones:
But in interviews Monday with several Hill Democrats who opposed the deal but might vote for it under some conditions, they said they hadn’t changed their minds. Nor did the White House or pro-trade advocates spend the weekend aggressively whipping behind their efforts, according to several senior democratic aides.
“Nothing,” said Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal said when asked if he had heard from the White House after the Friday’s vote.
Obama’s effort focused on flipping Pelosi back to support on TAA — and even that was conducted by Denis McDonough, not Obama himself. Pelosi still said no dice:
Democratic leaders met in a closed-door session on Monday night to discuss their strategy at which point Pelosi — who ultimately opposed the key vote after publicly wavering — said that the 144 Democrats who voted “no” on Friday were not going to change their minds in one weekend. Pelosi aides said she told her fellow party leaders that she remains open to discussing trade, but a second vote this week would not get them to yes.
Now the next vote can come as late as July 30, but let’s consider what that means. The August recess will take place immediately after that date, which means it will be the last vote taken before all of these House Democrats go back to their districts and hold town halls and other events. Does Obama and Boehner really expect that these Democrats — facing progressive populists and potential primary challengers at this stage of their two-year cycle — will want to arrive back in the ol’ home towns just after enabling a carte blanche on free trade? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. They might even lose a few Republicans on TAA with that kind of timing, and the GOP contributed twice as many ayes as Democrats did in the final vote Friday. Obama and Boehner would be better off tying it to a budget bill in September, where it can pass with (slightly) less fanfare. Don’t be surprised if a new rule comes along soon to extend the vote in such a manner soon.