Obama’s Trade Bill Gets Boost as Mitch McConnell Vows Vote ‘Soon’

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a meeting of The President's Export Council in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The U.S. Senate will take up legislation to give President Barack Obama the trade negotiating authority he wants “very soon,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

“It’s been almost an out of body experience but we’ve been working closely with the White House,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday as he said the trade bill would follow action on two other measures. “We’re working together to try to get it across the finish line.”

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, a foe of “fast-track” trade authority, called on Republicans to first consider measures to extend federal highway funding and modify U.S. surveillance laws.

The Obama administration is seeking to build a coalition of mostly Republicans and a few Democrats to back the trade bill, which lets the president send agreements in Congress for a quick vote without amendments.

Obama says the ability will help him complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a top second-term goal.

In the House, the bill faces opposition from most Democrats and some Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has said Obama will need to persuade Democrats to back him, something McConnell said is happening.

“At the risk of having some of you literally faint, I want to compliment the president for the way he’s handling the trade issue,” McConnell said.

‘Clear-Eyed Look’

White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Tuesday said the administration has made the case to individual lawmakers, emphasizing that the trade measure is good for workers.

“The president is hopeful that Democrats, as they take a clear-eyed look at this proposal will acknowledge that the best way to advance the kinds of progressive values and the best way to advance the interests of middle class families all across the country, is to support this particular trade bill,” Earnest said.

McConnell brushed off Reid’s request to delay action until Congress disposes of the Highway Trust Fund extension and modification of the Patriot Act, which covers surveillance.

Setting the agenda is “the responsibility of the majority, and we’ll be going to do trade promotion authority next,” McConnell said.

Asked whether 60 senators would vote to advance the bill, a procedural step in a chamber where Republicans hold 54 seats, McConnell said: “We sure hope so. We’re working it hard.” Seven Democrats voted in the Senate Finance Committee to approve the bill, suggesting Reid lacks the votes to stall the measure.

Democratic Votes

In the House, the number of Democrats saying they are willing to vote for the legislation increased the past few days, bringing the total to at least 16 who are publicly supportive.

Democratic Representatives Ami Bera of California and John Delaney of Maryland last week said they’d vote yes. And Representative Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon also came out in favor yesterday.

“A trade agreement done right will not only make it easier to sell American-made goods, it will level the playing field by reducing tariffs that currently make it difficult to compete in many of the world’s markets,” Bonamici said on her website.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who sets the floor-vote schedule, signaled to fellow Republicans in a memo last week there will be no vote on fast-track authority until at least after the Memorial Day recess.

McCarthy said the House will “continue to lay the groundwork” for passing negotiating authority this month.

Early projections inside the House from both sides of the aisle -- and from some outside groups -- suggest there is a floor of about 180 House Republicans inclined to support a trade promotion authority bill, and a ceiling of about 200 Republicans. Overall, 217 votes will be needed for passage in a chamber where 432 seats are now filled.