The fight over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal took an important turn this afternoon, when the White House's plans were derailed, at least temporarily, by Senate Democrats. NBC News' Frank Thorp reported
A key component of President Barack Obama's trade agenda and his economic legacy failed a critical test in the Senate today as Democrats blocked consideration of a bill that would give the president "fast track" authority to negotiate a massive 12-nation trade pact. The vote was 52-45 and effectively kills consideration of "fast track" authority until Democrats withdraw their request that the Senate also vote on a customs bill which includes currency manipulation and enforcement provisions that Democrats support.
At issue is something called "trade-promotion authority" -- also known as "fast-track" -- which is intended to streamline the process. As we discussed
a month ago, the proposal would empower President Obama to move forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiating its specific provisions. If successful, the White House would then present a finished TPP to Congress for an up-or-down vote -- with no amendments.
Lawmakers would effectively have a take-it-or-leave-it opportunity. The underlying policy goal of "fast-tracking" the process is to strengthen the president's hand, making it harder for Congress to intervene or alter an agreement.
Today's vote wasn't on the TPP itself, but rather, was about starting the debate on fast-track. It was the first procedural vote on the legislation, and though it had majority support
, it was far short of the votes needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
Several Senate Dems who generally support the underlying issue -- including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who cosponsored today's bill -- ended up balking and voting with the rest of their party. In a familiar dynamic, these Democrats said they're still prepared to move forward with the debate, but they're looking for guarantees from the Republican majority on related measures, including a customs-enforcement bill, trade-adjustment assistance, and measures to crack down on currency manipulation.
Their rationale matters -- because it suggests today's vote isn't necessarily the end of the process, and today's win for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and her allies may not be the final word.
I heartily agree with Washington Post
's Greg Sargent's assessment
that today's vote was a clear setback for President Obama, but fast-track and TPP could still pass.
Reminder: There is still a sizable bloc of pro-TPP Democrats in the Senate who will vote Yes, if their demands are met. Senator Ron Wyden, who negotiated a "fast track" package with Republicans that improved the process over its previous version, is saying that this bloc will continue to oppose fast track, if Senator Mitch McConnell sticks to his current structuring of the vote. Democrats want votes on four provisions at once -- fast track (which would ensure a Congressional up-or-down vote on a final deal), Trade Adjustment Assistance (which helps workers displaced by trade), a provision cracking down on currency manipulation by other countries, and a measure that would stiffen enforcement of the terms of the trade deal. McConnell only allowed a vote on the first two of these. A sizable bloc of Dems who voted No today could well vote Yes if McConnell relents and allows a vote on all four, or guarantees in some other way that all four will pass.
Right. Today wasn't the end of the debate, it was the beginning of the horse-trading. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants a trade deal -- and there's ample evidence that he does -- he has an incentive to see if something can be worked out.
The Republican leader knows how to compromise when he wants to. The question in this case is how much effort he's prepared to invest.
For labor and much of the left, today's vote was heartening, and I've seen a lot of "Warren 1, Obama 0" tweets this afternoon, all of which are grounded in fact. But it's not the final score, and plenty of TPP proponents still believe the process will move forward.
That includes the White House, which brushed off today's vote as a temporary "snafu