Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he’s unsure whether he’ll back the White House in its push for fast-track trade legislation.
Cardin, of Maryland, said the U.S. Senate probably will pass the legislation giving President Barack Obama authority to seek fast-track approval of trade agreements, including a pact being negotiated with Pacific Rim nations. Whether it will pass in the House is another question, he said.
“It’s still an open issue in the House,” Cardin said Wednesday at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters.
Backers of the trade measure are working to resolve which proposed amendments the Senate will consider this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has set a procedural vote for Thursday, and a final vote on the bill could come as late as Saturday under Senate rules.
Cardin said he hasn’t decided how he’ll vote, given concerns over currency manipulation legislation being considered separately and over lawmakers’ ability to amend the bill. The legislation would let the president submit trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote, without amendments.
Among the issues to be resolved is a push by Senators Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, and Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, that would require agreements considered under fast-track trade authority to have enforceable provisions against currency manipulation.
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in a letter to Senate leaders Tuesday that he would recommend that Obama veto the trade measure, H.R. 1314, if it includes the currency amendment.
Lew said the administration supports a related amendment that would provide reporting, monitoring and penalties to press countries to address unfair currency practices. That amendment was offered by Democratic Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Tom Carper of Delaware, and Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Cardin said that “philosophically” he thinks the president should have fast-track authority. He credited Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio with raising issues over the trade legislation about U.S. workers’ rights.
Warren, among other things, has proposed giving the Labor Department the authority to investigate allegations of labor violations by countries that have trade agreements with the U.S.
“The opponents have allowed us to make progress on good governance, workers’ rights and enforcement,” Cardin said. Still, he said, “I don’t think there’s anything you could put in the final bill that would get Senator Warren’s or Senator Brown’s vote.”
McConnell has said he will seek Senate passage this week of legislation to extend the National Security Agency’s wireless surveillance authority, now set to expire at the end of May.
Among the options are a two-month extension of the current authority, and a House-passed measure that would prohibit the NSA from collecting bulk records while renewing three U.S. spy programs set to expire in two weeks.
On defense issues, Cardin said the U.S. would be stronger if Congress passed legislation authorizing use of military force to fight Islamic State though “fundamental differences” remain among lawmakers.
He said he wasn’t optimistic that Congress would pass such legislation. Some senators back a broader use of force that would allow ground troops against ISIS, while others support extending an authorization to use force in Syria, he said. Neither is likely to be enacted, Cardin said.
House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that Obama should rethink his handling of Islamic State.
“It’s time for the president to get serious about this threat to Americans and our allies all around the world,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said at a news conference in Washington.
Cardin said the Obama administration’s broad interpretation of the 2001 authorization to pursue terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks creates a “risk factor,” he said. White House officials have all the authority they need now to pursue the Islamic State, he said.
Cardin also said Obama told him he will sign the Iran nuclear deal measure reached with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker last month.