The Cable

The Unlikely Boehner-Obama-McConnell Team Scores a Huge Win on Trade

Obama and Boehner teamed up to score a big win on trade. How will Democrats respond?


Six days ago, President Barack Obama’s bold trade agenda appeared to be on its last legs. On Thursday, after an unlikely assist, it’s now standing tall.

With GOP backing from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House voted 218 to 208 to grant Obama “fast-track” authority to negotiate trade deals. Obama wants this power to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the biggest trade deal in U.S. history, covering 40 percent of the world economy.

Last Friday, House Democrats refused to give Obama the authority, derailing the legislative process surrounding it.

On Thursday, 28 Democrats voted for the bill, the same number that supported it last week. Boehner managed to get an additional 27 GOP votes to push the authority through.

For now, Boehner and Obama can claim victory. Over the course of the week, the speaker cracked the whip on fellow GOP lawmakers who initially conspired with Democrats to defeat the trade legislation. Boehner’s tactic included a public shaming of anti-trade Republicans and GOP members associated with the Tea Party for not toeing the party’s pro-trade line.

Boehner also countered last week’s Democratic insurgency by introducing a measure to give the president the ability to speed up passage of trade legislation — but without authorizing a program compensating American workers who lose their jobs because of free trade. Boehner said that carrot, which is precious to Democrats, would be restored after fast-track legislation is approved.

Now, groups opposed to the TPP are blasting Democrats for allowing the process to move forward.

“Any Democrat in Congress who trusts John Boehner or Mitch McConnell to pass trade adjustment assistance that will actually help working families deserves to lose their job,” said Jim Dean, chair of the liberal advocacy group Democracy for America.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said his organization would continue to fight against the agreement.

“We are at the end of the second quarter, and the score is tied 1-1. We look forward to the third and fourth quarters,” Trumka said. “Workers’ resolve is firmer than ever.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, where McConnell will try to rally the 60 votes needed to pass it. A previous version of the TPA passed the Senate in May.

Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

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