The Cable

Obama: My Signature Trade Deal May Not Pass Anytime Soon

President Obama wants TPP to solidify his economic legacy. He's acknowledged it's going to be hard to get.


President Barack Obama wants Congress to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal with 12 Pacific nations that covers 40 percent of the global economy and 800 million people, before he leaves office. But even he is now publicly conceding it will be easier said than done.

Speaking to state governors at the White House Monday morning, the president said he was “cautiously optimistic” Congress would move on the deal during his time in office. But he also acknowledged there is broad opposition to the agreement, even among Obama’s fellow Democrats. The president has yet to send the deal to lawmakers, and would not set a specific date as to when he would.

“Labor unions — and I am a big labor guy — they are not happy with me on this,” Obama said.

He then added that while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have expressed support for the pact in the past, both have “concerns along the margins.” McConnell has warned Obama not to send the deal to Congress before November elections. Ryan has also said there are not enough votes to pass it in the House.

If the deal falls to his predecessor, its fate is uncertain. Both Republican frontrunner Donald Trump and Democratic leader Hillary Clinton oppose the deal, although the latter supported it when she served as Obama’s secretary of state. The president acknowledged this, telling the governors, “the presidential campaigns have created some noise and roiled things a little bit within the Republican Party and in the Democratic Party around this issue.”

But the president then made a familiar argument for the deal: it’s needed to compete in Asia and to counter China, home of the world’s second-largest economy. Beijing is left out of TPP.

“Our concern there was that China was the 800-pound gorilla and if we allowed them to set trade rules out there, American business and American workers were going to be cut out,” Obama said.

Photo Credit:  Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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