Strug­gle in House

Doubts grow about Obama’s plan for a 12-na­tion part­ner­ship.

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS - By Lisa Mas­caro and Michael A. Me­moli lisa.mas­caro@latimes.com michael.me­moli@latimes.com Times staff writer Evan Halper in New Hamp­shire con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Repub­li­cans vow to press ahead on trade deal, but the chal­lenges are sig­nif icant.

WASHINGTON — Days af­ter Pres­i­dent Obama’s trade agenda was scut­tled by mem­bers of his own party, the White House and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans have found no clear path for­ward, rais­ing doubts about what was sup­posed to be one of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fi­nal leg­isla­tive ac­com­plish­ments.

Repub­li­can lead­ers vowed Mon­day to press ahead in their rare al­liance with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion against Demo­cratic lead­ers and or­ga­nized la­bor over a trade mea­sure that the White House says is cru­cial to se­cur­ing an am­bi­tious 12-na­tion Pa­cific Rim pact known as the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship.

But in a sign of the chal­lenges still ahead, ten­ta­tive plans to vote again Tues­day on the de­feated por­tion of the House pack­age ap­peared to be shelved. Repub­li­can lead­ers agreed in­stead to ex­tend a pro­ce­dural dead­line to vote un­til July 30.

“We’ve got to get this done one way or another,” said House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bak­ers­field). “The best op­tion right now [is for] Democrats to come to their senses.”

At the White House, Press Sec­re­tary Josh Earnest con­tin­ued to de­scribe the set­back as a “snafu,” and ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials worked back chan­nels to shore up sup­port. Obama called House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Mon­day to dis­cuss strat­egy.

But no Plan B emerged, and Obama’s pur­suit of the trade pack­age in­creas­ingly iso­lated him from other Demo­cratic lead­ers, who worry the Pa­cific Rim trade deal would hurt Amer­i­can work­ers.

Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Fran­cisco) de­fied the White House last week and sided with those in her party who want more pro­tec­tions for la­bor and the en­vi­ron­ment as part of the fi­nal deal. Pelosi fielded a call Mon­day from White House Chief of Staff De­nis McDonough, but Democrats showed no signs of back­ing down.

In another blow, Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, the party’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial front-run­ner, dis­tanced her­self from the trade deal over the week­end and again on Mon­day.

“The is­sue for me is what is in the deal,” Clin­ton said in New Hamp­shire. “We need a bet­ter deal.”

Specif­i­cally, Clin­ton ques­tioned a so-called In­vestor-State Dis­pute Set­tle­ment process cre­ated un­der the ac­cord. Crit­ics have dis­missed it as a “se­cret” tri­bunal that would ben­e­fit mostly big cor­po­ra­tions. Clin­ton called it “an anti-Demo­cratic process.”

The for­mer sec­re­tary of State’s views on trade have var­ied over the years. In 2012, she said the emerg­ing TPP deal would set the “gold stan­dard” for open, free trade, but she has since taken a more nu­anced po­si­tion.

“There’s al­ways room to ma­neu­ver, and I think this is one of those times,” she said, urg­ing Obama to use the leg­isla­tive set­back as lever­age with Pa­cific na­tions to de­mand bet­ter terms for Amer­i­can work­ers.

The fast-track leg­is­la­tion is a pre­cur­sor to the broader Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship trade pact that has been years in the mak­ing. Like other fast-track bills sought by pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents, it would en­able the ad­min­is­tra­tion to prom­ise its ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners that the even­tual trade pact would re­ceive a sim­ple yes-or-no vote in Congress with­out amend­ment.

The House and Se­nate both ap­proved the fast- track leg­is­la­tion, but the House re­jected a com­pan­ion mea­sure that had passed the Se­nate, stalling fast­track. The Trade Ad­just­ment As­sis­tance mea­sure would pre­serve a train­ing pro­gram for Amer­i­can work­ers who lose their jobs to over­seas trade.

Sup­port­ers of the fast­track leg­is­la­tion are search­ing for pro­ce­dural al­ter­na­tives to win fi­nal pas­sage.

One strat­egy would be for the House to try again to pass the train­ing-as­sis­tance pack­age. Democrats tra­di­tion­ally have sup­ported the pro­gram, but voted against it last week be­cause they said it was the only way to doom the broader fast-track pack­age and slow TPP ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The worker pro­gram is set to ex­pire Sept. 30. It was un­clear Mon­day whether enough Democrats would switch votes to ex­tend it.

Al­ter­na­tively, House Repub­li­can lead­ers could ask their mem­bers to pass the re­train­ing pro­gram with­out Demo­cratic help, since the GOP holds the ma­jor­ity. But most Repub­li­cans re­ject the as­sis­tance as waste­ful gov­ern­ment spend­ing.

A third op­tion would be for Repub­li­cans to try to pass the fast-track bill again in both the House and Se­nate, but with­out the worker train­ing pro­gram.

That strat­egy risks los­ing needed votes from Democrats, who want guar­an­tees that the re­train­ing pro­gram will con­tinue. The fast-track bill only nar­rowly over­came a pro­ce­dural hur­dle in the Se­nate. The House vote also was close.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials would not say Mon­day whether the pres­i­dent would agree to a fast-track bill with­out the train­ing-as­sis­tance pro­gram.

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