Lawmakers will likely take two contested votes this week, as the Senate considers whether to grant President Obama authority to conclude free-trade negotiations in the Pacific and the House debates a reform to the country's surveillance apparatus. Neither vote will be along party lines, which makes both of them interesting -- they reveal divisions within the Republican and Democratic coalitions that are usually hidden.
Those tensions were apparent over the weekend in Matt Bai's interview with Obama on free trade for Yahoo, excerpted below. Obama rejected claims by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that the deal would undermine financial regulation, and accused Warren of playing politics.
As Matthew Yglesias wrote last week at Vox, Warren might be technically right that a future Republican president could use new authority on trade to relax the rules for banks -- but then again, a Republican in the White House would hardly need trade negotiations to accomplish that goal.
What's in Wonkbook: 1) Obama's trade speech 2) Opinions, including Burgis on conflict minerals 3) Why young men keep running from the police, and more
Number of the day: 223,000. That's how many jobs the economy added in April. Matt O'Brien in The Washington Post.
1. Top story: Obama defends trade deal
Obama talked about trade in a speech at Nike's headquarters, which some felt was an odd choice. "President Obama made a forceful new case for global trade Friday at the headquarters of footwear giant Nike, for decades a symbol of outsourcing, eroding corporate labor standards and the dark side of globalization. ... Many people, including fellow Democrats who are deeply skeptical of Obama's trade agenda, were mystified by the choice of location, at what they consider to be the starting line of globalization's economic race to the bottom." Mike DeBonis in The Washington Post.
That said, a trade deal in the Pacific could help workers in places like Vietnam. "Take Vietnam, for example, where about a third of the people who make Nike products work. Its labor laws have come under criticism for being notoriously weak, child labor and human trafficking are rampant and unions free of government control do not exist. If Vietnam joins the TPP, Nike will no longer have to pay tariffs to import shoes that range from eight to 15 percent (a cost that adds about $3 to each pair). U.S. companies will get additional protections for their intellectual property so Vietnamese contractors can't just replicate it. And U.S. companies will also have the ability to sue in an international court if they feel like they have been treated any worse than a Vietnamese company. ... All of those changes, which give U.S. companies greater protections and conveniences when doing business in countries party to the agreement, will likely lead to a flood of footwear and apparel contracting into Vietnam... and wages in Vietnam will probably rise." Lydia DePillis in The Washington Post.
With a crucial vote in the Senate on Tuesday, the deal's prospects are uncertain. "Obama’s most aggressive and sustained legislative push since the Affordable Care Act faces a crucial first test this week when a divided Senate considers a bill that would grant him accelerated power to complete a massive trade accord with 11 nations across the Pacific Rim. But after lobbying members of Congress in a campaign that has included rides on Air Force One, meetings in the West Wing, private vows of political support and public attacks on critics in his own party, Mr. Obama’s top legislative priority remains at risk. ... It will get only more difficult for the president as the debate moves from the Senate to the House. Republicans on whom Mr. Obama is relying to provide the bulk of the votes for the trade measure are finding their colleagues — many aligned with the Tea Party — reluctant to hand the president a victory. Leaders have warned the White House that they may not be able to supply enough votes to compensate for balky members of the president’s own party." Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.
BAI: Obama also had harsh words for Warren (D-Mass.). "'She’s absolutely wrong,' Barack Obama said, before I could even get the question out of my mouth. ... This past week, as I had just reminded Obama, Warren launched her heaviest torpedo yet against the trade deal, alleging that some future president might use it as an excuse to undo the reregulation of Wall Street that Obama signed into law in 2010. ... 'The notion that I had this massive fight with Wall Street to make sure that we don’t repeat what happened in 2007, 2008. And then I sign a provision that would unravel it? I’d have to be pretty stupid,' Obama said, laughing." Yahoo.
2. Top opinions
BURGIS: The campaign against conflict minerals has had unintended consequences. "Despite Dodd-Frank and the spate of efforts to curb conflict mineral violence in the early 2000s, it appears unlikely that the certification schemes will ever reliably cover the whole of eastern Congo’s mining trade. Clean miners have been squeezed, as the retreat of Western buyers has let Chinese comptoirs gain a near-monopoly on Congolese coltan, allowing them to dictate prices. ... The efforts to impose some control on the mineral trade might trim the income of the armed groups... at the cost of weakening the already precarious livelihoods of eastern Congo’s diggers and porters and their dependents. In a land ruled by the law of the roadblock, such initiatives can look quixotic." Politico.
BEUTLER: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee breaks the GOP consensus on entitlements. "He’s adopted the view, unfathomable in modern Republican politics, that support programs for the elderly shouldn’t be tampered with, and not just for today’s seniors, but for at least a generation. By doing so he’s violated the GOP’s implicit pact that discourages members from accentuating the tensions between the party’s fiscal priorities and its aging political base. ... The GOP owes its political livelihood to the elderly. To pursue conservative goals, without obliterating their coalition, Republicans must twist themselves into pretzels. They must detest spending, but only on those other people. Their rhetorical commitments are impossible to square with their ideological and substantive ones, though, and the agenda they’ve promised to pursue when they control the government again would not exempt retirees and near retirees in any meaningful way." The New Republic.
BEINART: Don't underestimate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). "By conventional standards, Sanders’s candidacy is absurd: He’s not well known, he doesn’t have big money donors, he’s not charismatic, and by Beltway standards, he’s ideologically extreme. But candidates with these liabilities have caught fire before. Think of Jerry Brown... Pat Buchanan... Howard Dean... Ron Paul... While Sanders lacks Warren’s charisma—he’s the Eugene McCarthy to her Robert Kennedy—he shares a key quality with the successful insurgents of the past: authenticity. Like Ron Paul, he has held firm to his ideological convictions for decades, despite the mockery of the political mainstream. And he articulates those convictions bluntly and without artifice." The Atlantic.
Some Republicans, including Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), oppose economic growth. He "has long railed against illegal immigration but since becoming chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on immigration has taken a more public stance against legal immigration. Now he’s opposing the bipartisan effort to pass trade promotion authority and in the process showing that his objections aren’t only about the law or immigrants. They’re rooted in the same hostility to markets and globalization that animates the slow-growth Democratic left. ... He is also a symptom of a return of an anti-growth strain within the GOP. This wing of the party opposes immigration and thus turns away thousands of the world’s brains who want to be American. It opposes trade because it fears the U.S. can’t compete," writes the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal.
3. In case you missed it
An appellate court decision could force Congress to revise the Patriot Act. "The key provision of the Patriot Act, Section 215, is set to expire in just a few weeks. ... Neema Guliani, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case before the 2nd Circuit, said the court decision shows that the Patriot Act can't be used to justify mass surveillance. 'The court was pretty blunt in saying the plain language of the statute is clear and that can't be superseded,' she said. She also argued that it's extremely unlikely that a majority of Congress will agree to reauthorize the Patriot Act without substantial reforms.The House is set to vote this week on the USA Freedom Act, which would extend the Patriot Act but keep the bulk databases of phone records out of the hands of the NSA." Brendan Sasso in National Journal.
Politicians have stopped using the phrase "middle class." "The once ubiquitous term 'middle class' has gone conspicuously missing from the 2016 campaign trail, as candidates and their strategists grasp for new terms for an unsettled economic era. The phrase, long synonymous with the American dream, now evokes anxiety, an uncertain future and a lifestyle that is increasingly out of reach. The move away from 'middle class' is the rhetorical result of a critical shift: After three decades of income gains favoring the highest earners and job growth being concentrated at the bottom of the pay scale, the middle has for millions of families become a precarious place to be. A social stratum that once signified a secure, aspirational lifestyle, with a house in the suburbs, children set to attend college, retirement savings in the bank and, maybe, an occasional trip to Disneyland now connotes fears about falling behind, sociologists, economists and political scientists say." Amy Chozick in The New York Times.
Though the unemployment rate has fallen in the Midwest, the economy hasn't improved. "Hit hard by the recession, when its unemployment rate topped 14%, Decatur over the past year has seen one of the swiftest declines in joblessness in the country, with the rate dropping to 7% in March from 10.2% a year earlier. But look closer, and this city of 75,000 resembles many communities across the industrial Midwest, where the unemployment rate is falling fast in part because workers are disappearing: moving away, retiring or no longer looking for a job. ... Among the 20 metropolitan areas where unemployment fell by at least 2.7 percentage points in the past year, 16 also saw their workforces shrink over the same period, according to Labor Department data. Half of those were in Michigan or Illinois, including Detroit, Decatur, Flint, Mich., and Rockford, Ill." Mark Peters and Ben Leubsdorf in The Wall Street Journal.
The Obama administration wants to extend the agreement with China on nuclear energy. "The deal would allow Beijing to buy more U.S.-designed reactors and pursue a facility or the technology to reprocess plutonium from spent fuel. China would also be able to buy reactor coolant technology that experts say could be adapted to make its submarines quieter and harder to detect. ... [The proposal] might alarm members of Congress and nonproliferation experts who fear China’s growing naval power — and the possibility of nuclear technology falling into the hands of third parties with nefarious intentions. ... The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to hear from five Obama officials in a closed-door meeting Monday to weigh the commercial, political and security implications of extending the accord." Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.
When many young men see cops, they run. "Some do it because there are warrants for their arrest. Others because they possess drugs, are seeking a thrill, or are just plain scared. Sometimes people do it even when they have done nothing wrong. Young men in the heavily policed neighborhood where 25-year-old Freddie Gray was chased by the police — and suffered fatal injuries in custody — say running from officers is a way of life... Mr. Gray’s death was among a number of recent cases in which unarmed men, who were either black or Hispanic, were killed after fleeing from the police. Other cases include ones in North Charleston, S.C.; Tulsa , Okla.; and Pasco, Wash. For the nation, those deaths have spurred debate on the use of force by the police, particularly against people suspected of low-level or nonviolent crimes. But for young men in Baltimore, Mr. Gray’s death highlights a sharper dilemma they have long struggled with: Is running worth it?" John Eligon in The New York Times.