The Cable

Obama’s Asia Trade Deal Might Pass the Senate. It’s Not Looking So Good in the House.

An unlikely alliance of lawmakers, labor union, and the Tea Party could sink Obama's Asia trade bill in the House.


The Senate passed a bill Thursday that paves the way for President Barack Obama to get the authority he needs to fast-track the Trans Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal meant to cement economic ties between the United States and Asian nations. It now appears there is a major hurdle standing in his way — an unlikely alliance of lawmakers in the House.

There, Tea Party Republicans and liberal Democrats are uniting in opposition to both the overall trade pact and the Trade Provisional Authority (TPA), the measure that would give Obama the authority to quickly negotiate a deal. Both are betraying their respective parties’  line: Most Republicans are champions of free trade and Democrats are bucking their leader in the White House.

The Obama administration desperately wants the deal that would create a trade bloc uniting 40 percent of the global economy — it would be the largest trade deal in American history. The Treasury Department predicts the TPP would increase American exports to Asia by $123.5 billion.

But Republican House leaders can’t get a large chunk of its caucus to back the fast-track measure, according to multiple officials on Capitol Hill. And the White House has so far been unable to get enough of the minority Democrats to support it.

“It hasn’t moved yet really. They don’t have the votes,” Michael Stumo, president of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, a group that opposes the bill, told FP Thursday. A congressional official confirmed Stumo’s take on the mood on the Hill.

Concerns among House lawmakers go far beyond the absence of mechanisms to curb currency manipulation by potential signatories Japan and Malaysia, which has been the dominant issue in the Senate. They include worries that cut in trade tariffs aren’t steep enough and that the pact would not adequately protect the right of foreign workers.

Opposition to the trade deal, negotiated in secret over the last five years, have formed alliances that many of the participants would have once considered unholy. Unions like the AFL-CIO are working in concert with members like Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter of California, David McKinley of West Virginia, and David Joyce of Ohio — all of whom have ties to the anti-labor Tea Party.

Those three lawmakers were among 19 Republicans who made clear their opposition to the TPP in a Dec. 3, 2014, letter to House leadership. They’ve loudly lobbied against the plan ever since.

Across the aisle, liberal Democrats like Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, and Sandy Levin of Michigan, also are pushing to delay the deal that they fear will export American jobs overseas and help Asian nations manipulate currency values to their advantage.

“The best course for Congress is to withhold ‘fast-track’ until we know that TPP is on a better course,” Levin said Thursday.

Judson Phillips, head of Tea Party Nation, one of the drivers of the far-right movement, told FP efforts between these typical rivals isn’t highly coordinated. Instead, he said a growing populist drive within the Tea Party is more closely aligning it with Democrats concerned about the deal’s potential to harm American workers.

“I’m known as an extremely partisan guy,” said Judson, who once sent an email urging voters to reject Ellison because he is a Muslim. “But there are issues even we can agree on.”

Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/Getty Images

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