Obama suffered a major setback on Tuesday when roughly 14 pro-trade Democrats emerged from a meeting with other Senate Democrats saying they wouldn’t vote to take up the trade bill, which then failed on a 52-45 vote.
Fox News reported that after fierce lobbying on both sides of the issue, the bid to start debate — on expanding the president’s authority to negotiate trade deals — failed on a 52-45 vote. It needed 60 votes to advance.
The president’s supporters will likely try again, but the vote nevertheless marks a stinging rebuke of a major Obama priority by members of his own party. Republicans mostly had aligned with Obama on the issue and, after the failed test vote, urged Obama’s fellow Democrats to drop their resistance.
“What we just saw here is pretty shocking,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, accusing congressional Democrats of standing with “special interests.”
At issue is Obama’s push for so-called “fast track” authority — which would let him negotiate trade deals that Congress can reject or ratify, but not amend. In the short-term, he wants to use this to pursue a broad trade pact with Japan and other Pacific nations.
But many Democrats aligned with labor unions in warning about the impact on U.S. jobs, and openly opposed the White House. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently told reporters he’s a “hell no” on the proposal. And Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for days have traded jabs on the matter, with the president calling Warren’s claims “absolutely wrong.”
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