House Republicans Mull Talks With Senate on Obama’s Trade Bill

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) delivers brief remarks during a news conference following the weekly House GOP conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol June 10, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Republican leaders must decide this week on a plan for rescuing President Barack Obama’s trade legislation, and one option is to open talks with the Senate, a top Republican said.

“What I think we’re going to do is try and negotiate with the Senate,” Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and Rules Committee chairman, told reporters Monday in Washington.

Obama suffered a stunning defeat of his trade bill in the House Friday amid a rebellion by his fellow Democrats. While the chamber passed fast-track trade negotiating authority, Democrats defeated a worker-assistance bill that needed to pass before the package could go to the president for his signature.

The action may endanger a trade deal being negotiated by Obama with 11 Pacific-area countries known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Obama spoke Monday with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio about how to move forward, the White House said without providing details. The speaker’s office also gave no information about the call.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough spoke with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who led Friday’s opposition to the trade measure. Her office gave no details about the call.

In an unusual alliance, most Republicans were backing Obama on the fast-track proposal, which would let Obama submit trade agreements to Congress for an expedited, up-or-down vote without amendments. Many Democrats remain stung by the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which labor unions blame for a decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Democratic Votes

After Friday’s votes, Republicans said it was up to Obama to round up enough Democratic support to pass the displaced worker measure, and Boehner set up a potential vote for Tuesday on whether to reconsider it.

Sessions said Monday he didn’t know whether a second vote would be held.

“We’re going to take all the time we need and then make a quick decision,” Sessions said. A decision on how to proceed has “probably got to be done by tomorrow.”

If the House decided instead to pass only the fast-track negotiating authority provisions of the measure, H.R. 1314, it would have to be reconciled with the broader Senate version.

Sessions said the worker assistance program could be added back to the bill in a House-Senate conference committee because many senators, Democrats and Republicans, backed it.

“People who passed that in the Senate naturally want to see it in the bill,” Sessions said.

Friday’s Collapse

Following the collapse of efforts on Friday, House Republican leaders said they would find a way to pass the trade legislation.

“We’re going to get it done one way or the other,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Monday, adding that the trade package needed to be enacted this summer. He said no decisions had been made yet, a point Sessions repeated.

Obama would need to persuade almost 100 fellow Democrats to support the landmark trade bill, a centerpiece of his second-term agenda, that most of them sought to block.

“The best option right now is for Democrats to come to their senses” and provide the votes to pass the displaced workers aid plan, said McCarthy of California.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday the president and his aides “continue to be confident there is strong bipartisan support for this approach.” The administration is working with lawmakers to “untangle the legislative snafu in the House,” he said.

Rare Visit

Friday’s setback for Obama was a 126-302 vote in the House against the workers’ aid measure, hours after Obama made a rare visit to Capitol Hill to meet with Democrats and push for the bill.

Many Republicans have long opposed that program, and 144 members of the president’s own party voted against it.

Pelosi criticized the trade plan in a dramatic floor speech, and signaled that prospects for passage will increase if Republicans act on other Democratic priorities, such as a highway funding bill.

McCarthy criticized that idea Monday.

“I don’t think it makes sense what she’s saying,” he said. Regarding the timing of new action on the trade package, he said, “I think sooner rather than later.”

He wasn’t specific about strategies for moving forward, or even whether additional votes would be held this week.

‘Best Option’

“There’s many different options. I don’t want to lead you down one way or another,” McCarthy said. “The best option before us would actually be that Democrats took the time over the weekend and worked with their president and found a way to get it done.”

Labor Secretary Tom Perez told ABC News on Sunday that the administration worked over the weekend to gin up trade support.

“We’ve had conversations throughout the weekend with various people,” Perez said without elaborating on who from the administration called whom. “I’m very confident that we can find a way. There are multiple pathways here.”

The House on Friday voted, 219-211, to give fast-track trade negotiating authority to the president. Twenty-eight Democrats voted for that measure.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, Obama called on Democrats in the House to reconsider their votes.

“I urge those members of Congress who voted against Trade Adjustment Assistance to reconsider, and stand up for American workers,” Obama said.

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