“For now, I think we have reached the period at the end of the sentence,” said Rep. Steve Israel, (D-N.Y.), who is close to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“We’ve always said we want to get to “yes,” but want to get “yes” in a way that reflects our concerns. And if those concerns are ultimately met, then we’ll bring it back.”
Instead of voting on the trade bills on Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) decided to seek a temporary rule that would give Republicans until July 30 to return to the debate and attempt a re-vote. If the rule passes, trade advocates will have an additional six weeks to find the votes.
But in interviews Monday with several Hill Democrats who opposed the deal but might vote for it under some conditions, they said they hadn’t changed their minds. Nor did the White House or pro-trade advocates spend the weekend aggressively whipping behind their efforts, according to several senior democratic aides.
“Nothing,” said Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal said when asked if he had heard from the White House after the Friday’s vote.
However, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Monday at the daily briefing that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough spoke with Pelosi over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders met in a closed-door session on Monday night to discuss their strategy at which point Pelosi — who ultimately opposed the key vote after publicly wavering — said that the 144 Democrats who voted “no” on Friday were not going to change their minds in one weekend. Pelosi aides said she told her fellow party leaders that she remains open to discussing trade, but a second vote this week would not get them to yes.
That quick capitulation was hardly a surprise to lawmakers who were considered targets for heavy lobbying from the White House and other pro-trade forces.
The most likely switchers were moderate Democrats who previously voted to support trade or lawmakers who have long-running ties to large pro-trade corporations in their districts.
Neal said the lack of interaction was typical of the way the White House has handled issues where individual outreach to the Hill might have helped.
“It is a constant complaint in the Democratic caucus that there isn’t much outreach on anything,” he said. “I don’t sense that all of a sudden there’s going to be a turnabout at the White House.”
Only 40 Democrats voted Friday to renew a worker retraining program, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, that they typically support because killing that program also meant defeating, or at least stalling, work on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The bill failed 126 to 302 and House Republicans, who control the floor, vowed to try again on Tuesday.
But by Monday afternoon, it was clear the president hadn’t won a massive amount of new Democratic converts — he needs at least 80 Democratic votes for a win. Democrats have already “flooded the zone” on trade and that didn’t work, Israel said. He added that it’s time to move on to other agenda items and maybe try again when circumstances have changed.
Republicans were left weighing whether to extend the window of time they have to bring up the issue for a re-vote or use some other procedural tactic in hopes of cobbling together more support for the bill for a president from the opposite party.
The inertia wasn’t a surprise to labor leaders who lobbied heavily last week to stop the trade bills from going forward.
“We made calls all weekend and we’re thanking people who voted with us,” said Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff at the AFL-CIO. “We’ve been making sure there isn’t any slippage”
Some have floated the idea that some Democrats could be convinced to back both bills if lawmakers add greater transparency measures to fast-track, the underlying bill with which Democrats have an issue. Democrats want to have more access to the ongoing TPP trade talks. Others might accept a more widely-funded worker retraining bill with specific language protecting private-sector employees.
Leaders could tweak both bills to satisfy those demands and require the Senate to re-vote on the package as well. But there is little guarantee those changes could pass the Republican-led Senate and those changes could create even greater waves in the House.
Many Republicans, including Ways and Means Trade subcommittee Chairman Rep Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) said tweaking the bills could turn off enough Republicans to kill TAA entirely.
“I think they’re playing with fire,” Tiberi said. “The irony is that a lot of our members actually feel this is the best chance ever to get rid of TAA.”