Cruz: Support for the TPA doesn't mean approval for the trade agreement

The trade fight in the House looks bad for the White House this morning, while no one still knows what the actual trade agreement will look like in its final form. Ted Cruz explained to Hugh Hewitt that support for the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) didn’t mean approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a point he wants to emphasize so much that Cruz put it on his website:

Historically, since FDR virtually every president has had fast track authority. What fast track provides is simply if a free trade agreement is negotiated, that Congress will vote on it up or down without amendments and history has demonstrated for the last 80 years that the only way to get free trade agreements adopted is to have fast track. That if there is no fast track, free trade agreements do not end up being negotiated.

TPA is what the Senate voted on recently. I voted in favor of fast track because I support free trade. I think free trade benefits America. It creates jobs — opening markets to our farmers, to our ranchers, to our manufacturers, improves economic growth. In Texas alone, roughly 3 million jobs depend on international trade.

And if you support free trade, the only way history has shown free trade agreements get negotiated is through fast track.

Now there is a second issue which has caused a great deal of confusion and that is TPP…it is one specific trade deal that is being negotiated. It is separate from TPA. Congress has not voted on TPP, and there’s a great deal of concern about TPP.

The fight over trade authorization will conclude today in the House one way or another — and probably not in the way that the White House wants. Things looked bleak for the TPA part of the package already, but the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that was supposed to sweeten the pot for Democrats appears on the brink of failure, and the whole strategy for Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement with it. Jake Tapper’s sources on the Hill say that the strategy will fail, if the House even gets to vote on it at all:

This started yesterday afternoon, when a key member of House Democratic leadership announced his opposition to TAA. Greg Sargent wrote yesterday afternoon that this was an early indication that union opposition to free trade was succeeding:

The latest: Dem Rep. Sander Levin — the ranking Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and a well-respected lawmaker on trade and labor issues — plans to vote No on a key measure related to trade, a spokesperson for Levin confirms to me. That could prove to be a serious blow.

Levin will vote No on so-called Trade Adjustment Assistance, a measure that would give aid to workers displaced by trade, his spokesman, Caroline Behringer, tells me. “Mr. Levin plans to vote No on TAA,” she emails.

This suggests that the strategy that liberal Democrats and labor unions have employed to kill Fast Track may be working. As I reported the other day, a bloc of liberal House Dems, allied with unions, have been working to turn House Democrats against TAA, as a back-door way to bring down Fast Track, and with it, the whole deal. The administration says it needs Fast Track to seal the final agreement.

This morning, the Washington Post also reported that the trend had turned sour for the White House. They did get a procedural win, but that may not last long:

President Obama’s trade initiatives headed toward a decisive showdown Friday with little margin for error, as his regular allies on Capitol Hill mounted a furious last-ditch effort to derail a key vote and anxious Republicans tried to gather support for a White House that has normally been their deepest enemy.

Obama’s top advisers shuttled up and down Pennsylvania Avenue Thursday in a bid to shore up Democrats, fearful that the fallout from a defeat at the hands of the president’s own party would leave Democrats an internal feud for weeks on end.

It’s already too late to avoid that:

The battle has pitted friend against friend, nowhere more so than Pelosi and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), the fiery liberal from New Haven who has girded for this fight for two years. Italian grandmothers who are close friends, Pelosi and DeLauro fought in private during a leadership meeting Wednesday night over the tactics DeLauro and her union allies were deploying to defeat the legislation, according to several senior Democrats.

By Thursday’s votes, the duo held an animated discussion in public on the House floor.

Pelosi has kept her plans close to the vest throughout this process, but those close to her and White House advisers say that she does not want to see Obama’s agenda fall at the hands of Democrats. DeLauro is leading the charge against trade with an approach that some Democrats view as any means necessary.

“Any means” in this case refers to the strategy Sargent noted in killing a program that Democrats normally support:

A senior House GOP leadership source says Republicans can only provide 50 to 70 votes for TAA. Democrats must make up the difference. However, many Democrats now see a means to an end. Some intend to vote no on TAA simply to detonate the entire process and never get the TPA bill to the floor — which they so despise.

Will Obama work the phones himself today to get Democrats back in line? Fox’s Chad Pergram says don’t count on it:

Some lawmakers wondered if Obama – fresh off his dugout diplomatic mission — might ring up lawmakers and implore them to vote aye. One longtime Democratic member doubted that would happen, noting that Obama had already done all of the calling he could do.

The numbers on the whip counts from yesterday showed just how difficult it will be for TPA and even TAA to pass the House. It will take nearly two-thirds of currently uncommitted Representatives to vote for a package that’s opposed in general terms by two-thirds of the American public, as well as zero defections from those currently leaning toward support. That’s not impossible to achieve, given that most of the uncommitted are GOP, but it’s no easy lift either. Obama doesn’t have to run in another election, but the Democrats and Republicans representing blue-collar districts will have to explain themselves in a general election in 17 months, and primaries sooner than that.

It’s not over by any means for TPA, but it’s not looking good for the White House at the moment.