October 26, 2021

House deals humiliating blow to Obama in trade fight

fast trackDefying President Obama, House Democrats on Friday rallied to vote down legislation granting aid to workers displaced by trade, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the fast-track legislation that had been scheduled to hit the floor.

Friday’s voting procedure was worked out between Speaker John Boehner and Pelosi. It allowed a vote on the fast-track trade bill only if the House first passed a measure providing aid to workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition.

The worker assistance program typically is supported by Democrats and opposed by most Republicans. Some Democrats decided to defeat it because that would stop the vote on Obama’s trade negotiating authority. The move would be worth it even though $450 million in aid for workers would be lost, some lawmakers said.


An overwhelming majority of Democrats voted to sink the package in the 126-302 vote despite an impassioned plea from the president, which he delivered in person during a rare morning visit to Capitol Hill. A majority of Republicans also opposed the bill.

The vote came minutes after a dramatic floor speech by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who rebuffed lobbying by Obama to vote against the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program.

Pelosi noted that Democrats have traditionally backed TAA, but sided with liberals in her conference who argued a vote against the program was the only way to stop fast-track.

“If TAA slows down the fast track, I’m prepared to vote against TAA,” Pelosi said.

Other members of Pelosi’s leadership team, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Reps. James Cyburn (S.C.) and Steve Israel (N.Y.), voted yes.

On the GOP side, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) cast a vote in favor of TAA. House Speakers cast floor votes on relatively rare occasions.

Only 40 Democrats backed TAA while 144 voted against it. On the GOP side, 158 Republicans voted “no” while 86 Republicans voted “yes.”

The vote against TAA is a humiliating defeat for Obama, who had spent weeks lobbying House Democrats to support his trade agenda in the face of overwhelming opposition from liberal groups and organized labor.

Under the procedure established for considering the trade package, TAA had been packaged with fast-track authority, and a vote against either doomed the total package.

In a slight surprise, HouseMajority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced after the TAA vote that the House would still vote on the fast-track measure, as well as a separate customs bill.

In the vote on fast-track, the measure was approved in a 219-211 vote. Twenty-eight Democrats backed fast-track, while 54 Republicans voted no.

Labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, lobbied Democrats to oppose TAA as part of a last-ditch effort to keep the fast-track legislation from coming up for a vote.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who spearheaded the revolt, said that the TAA measure was “underfunded and wouldn’t do enough to help displaced workers.”

“It comes down to one question: Do we support hard working Americans or do we abandon them?” DeLauro said. “A vote for these bills is a vote against jobs and it’s a vote against wages.”

Other Democrats who oppose the fast-track bill rebuked their colleagues for opposing TAA, arguing the vote threatens to keep the assistance from being part of the final package sent to Obama.

“I refuse to put displaced workers at risk for the sake of a political tactic,” said Rep. David Price (D-N.C.).

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who led the GOP effort to whip votes for the trade bills, warned that defeating the trade package would make the U.S. look unreliable on the international stage.

“The world is watching this,” Ryan said during floor debate. “If we establish TPA, we are saying on a bipartisan basis, we want America to lead.”