President Obama's renewed pitch for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Tuesday ran into blunt reality when six House Republicans urged him not to send the trade accord to Congress for a vote this year.
The request, made in a letter to the White House, represents another potentially serious blow to the president's trade agenda, whose prospects have dimmed in an election year. All six GOP members had supported legislation last year to give Obama greater trade authority, and their defections would make TPP ratification even more difficult.
"Some in your Administration reportedly believe passage of TPP should be attempted following November’s election. We respectfully, but strongly, disagree," the letter stated. It was signed by Reps. Candace Miller and Dave Trott of Michigan, Bill Shuster and Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, Ed Whitfield (Ky.) and Ted Yoho (Fla.).
The members called on the administration to reopen negotiations on the 12-nation accord and add language that specifically bars member nations from manipulating their currency. The White House has objected to such provisions because trade pacts are not typically used to set monetary policy and other countries could try to use the TPP to influence decisions by the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve.
"A 'lame duck' Congress should not vote on an agreement of this consequence — it would be an end-run around the American people immediately following an election," the members wrote. "We urge you not to send TPP implementing legislation to Congress in 2016."
White House officials have said they remain hopeful that lawmakers will ratify the TPP during what is expected to be a brief lame-duck session after the Nov. 8 election. But opposition to the deal from the two leading presidential candidates — Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump — has made the prospects increasingly less likely.
The House narrowly approved the fast-track trade bill last year by a vote of 218-208, meaning that the six GOP members who signed the letter could wield significant power unless the Obama administration can find new supporters.
On Tuesday, Obama used a White House news conference with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to tout the TPP as a deal that would help maintain U.S. economic competitiveness in the Asia-Pacific region and build partnerships to bolster national security.
"I am really confident I can make the case that this is good for American workers and the American people," Obama said. He emphasized the tough battle to get the fast-track trade bill through Congress last year. "We muddled through and got it done. And I intend to do the same with respect to the actual agreement."