A group of Senate Democrats who are inclined to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal announced earlier today that they would vote No in today’s procedural vote on whether to move towards granting Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate the deal.
This is a rebuke to President Obama — one very much of the “stinging” variety, as the cliche has it. But I’d say it’s way premature to suggest that this means the TPP is in deep trouble. To be clear, it absolutely could fall short in the end. But it also could still very well pass.
Reminder: There is still a sizable bloc of pro-TPP Democrats in the Senate who will vote Yes, if their demands are met. Senator Ron Wyden, who negotiated a “fast track” package with Republicans that improved the process over its previous version, is saying that this bloc will continue to oppose fast track, if Senator Mitch McConnell sticks to his current structuring of the vote.
Democrats want votes on four provisions at once — fast track (which would ensure a Congressional up-or-down vote on a final deal), Trade Adjustment Assistance (which helps workers displaced by trade), a provision cracking down on currency manipulation by other countries, and a measure that would stiffen enforcement of the terms of the trade deal. McConnell only allowed a vote on the first two of these. A sizable bloc of Dems who voted No today could well vote Yes if McConnell relents and allows a vote on all four, or guarantees in some other way that all four will pass.
GOP aides are already floating this possibility, and McConnell may well find some way to do it. He is already telling reporters that he’ll try to hold more votes on fast track. After all, passing it with a chunk of Democrats would allow him to boast (by his own lights) that he’s made the Senate functional. Meanwhile, there is no deafening outcry against fast track on the right. So he has an incentive to deal, meaning it still could end up passing the Senate.
There are some grounds for thinking that, if Senate Democrats get their way and a currency manipulation piece is included in TPP, that it could kill the final deal by alienating other negotiating countries. However, don’t be all that shocked if a compromise is reached in which fast track and a currency manipulation measure advance separately and concurrently.
Remember: In the U.S. Senate, things have been known to suddenly come back to life, even when they appeared dead and buried only days before.
Indeed, it’s plausible that the more likely obstacle to fast track passing is the House. If fast track gets through the Senate, Politico estimates that as many as 60 House Republicans could vote No on it. If so, it’s highly unlikely that enough House Democrats will vote Yes — given the intensity of opposition on the left — to make House passage possible.
Still, Democratic aides I speak to are skeptical that so many Republicans will vote No on trade at the end of the day. While there’s no question that fast track really could die in the House, the pressure on Republicans from the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and elsewhere could get pretty fierce, and it could also end up passing.
One additional point: There’s been a ton of chatter to the effect that Hillary Clinton is under severe pressure to take a position on TPP — and fast track — with liberals watching her closely to see where she comes down. I’d like her to take a position. But the procedural heavy weather we’re seeing today may mean she won’t. Her team very well may be waiting to see if fast track dies on its own. At which point her position on it would be moot.