The Cable

Senate GOP May Scuttle Obama’s Signature Trade Deal — at Least For Now

The White House is pushing back against threats to delay Obama's signature trade deal until after the 2016 elections.

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On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said President Barack Obama’s signature trade deal, the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, would have to wait until after the 2016 presidential election, potentially robbing Obama of one of his signature economic accomplishments.

On Friday, the White House said, in effect, that the Senate should get a move on.  

“Our view is that it is possible for Congress to carefully consider the details of this agreement and to review all the benefits associated with this agreement … without kicking the vote all the way to the lame-duck period,” press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at Friday’s White House press briefing. “There is no reason we have to wait that long.”

On Thursday, McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, told the Washington Post that the deal, which includes 12 Pacific nations and covers nearly 40 percent of the global GDP, should not be considered during next year’s lame duck period, or the time between November’s general elections and when the new Congress convenes.  “I think the president would be making a big mistake to try to have that voted on during the election,” he added.

The president released the text of the deal in November, and the earliest he can deliver it to Congress for a 90-day review is Feb. 4 of next year. If he doesn’t manage to convince McConnell to bring it to the floor, Obama will have to wait until after he’s out of the Oval Office to see if a key part of his economic legacy lives beyond his presidency.

McConnell, who teamed up with Obama and then-Speaker of the House John Boehner last summer to give the president authority to quickly move the deal through Congress, said that the deal does not have the votes to pass right now. “There’s significant pushback all over the place,” he told the newspaper.

Obama insists the deal is necessary to keep the United States competitive in the 21st Century globally and better positioned to compete with China, the world’s second-largest economy. But many Democrats, as well as many far-right Republicans, believe the pact would rob America of jobs sent overseas, and does not adequately punish Asian nations for currency manipulation to keep the prices of Asian good low, and therefore more attractive to consumers.

The TPP has already made its way into 2016 presidential politics. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who supported the deal as Obama’s secretary of state, now opposes it. GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has called the pact “insanity” that “should not be supported and it should not be allowed to happen.”

McConnell has expressed support for TPP in the past. But he opposes provisions in the final deal that increase signatory’s rights to regulate tobacco, a staple crop in the majority leader’s home state of Kentucky.

The threat of TPP passing on to the next administration has long loomed over the deal. After winning fast-track trade authority last summer, negotiators rushed to hammer out a deal in October, after more than five years of secret negotiations. It covers everything from dairy products to electronics to cars.

The president is also at the mercy of the 11 other signatories on the deal. There’s significant opposition to it in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, all among the largest economies in the pact, with no guarantee that the deal would pass in these countries on Obama’s preferred timetable.

Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

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