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Obama's 11th-Hour Push Fails To Sway House On Trade Deal


President Obama suffered a setback yesterday when Democrats in the House of Representatives scuttled his bid for expanded powers to negotiate a trade deal. The Democrats voted down part of the legislation that passed the Senate. That would've aided people who lost jobs to overseas workers. This stalled the bill to allow the president to complete the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership pact. Republican leaders support the president on trade and said they might try again next week. NPR's Juana Summers reports.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Even a last-minute visit from President Obama wasn't enough to unite divided Democrats behind his trade push. He needed to convince Democrats to back the Trade Adjustment Assistance part of the deal, but they voted it down. Supporters, like Pennsylvania Democrat Mike Quigley, said it should all come down to trusting the president on the Pacific trade pact known as TPP.


REPRESENTATIVE MIKE QUIGLEY: All we're doing as Democrats is showing that we trust him in giving him this trade authority. Then, when TPP - when and if that comes - and you don't like it, vote against it.

SUMMERS: But others, like Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio, were visibly angry. He told reporters that the president lectured members for more than 40 minutes after having ignored and disrespected Congress for years.


REPRESENTATIVE PETER DEFAZIO: Basically, the president tried to both guilt people and then impugn their integrity. And I don't think it was a very effective tactic.

SUMMERS: After the meeting, the president himself acknowledged that anything could happen.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, I don't think you ever nail anything down around here. It's always moving.

SUMMERS: And that may have been the understatement of the day. Not only did scores of Democrats reject the job retraining program against the president's wishes; they were led by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who openly urged her members to defy the president.


NANCY PELOSI: For these and other reasons, I will be voting today to slow down the fast track to get a better deal for the American people.

SUMMERS: Republican leaders now have two legislative days to bring Trade Adjustment Assistance back up for another vote. The clock starts Monday night. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy set the stage.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: I am disappointed TAA did not pass, but we still have the opportunity. We are not done with this.

SUMMERS: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest downplayed the defeat.


JOSH EARNEST: I would describe this as a procedural snafu. We have a situation where we have got a clear bipartisan majority in the House. We just have to work our way through the procedure so that it can make its way to the president's desk.

SUMMERS: The House did approve the basic fast-track authority the president needs to finish the Asian trade deal. So after that vote, some Republicans said they hoped House Democrats would fall in line. Republican Pete Sessions chairs the House Rules Committee.


REPRESENTATIVE PETE SESSIONS: I think there's a lot of people reevaluating some positions right now. And a number of Democrats walked by me and said, we've got to rethink this. So let them rethink it. They'll have a whole weekend to do it.

SUMMERS: Some Democrats, like Congressman John Delaney of Maryland, said continued resistance could mean a trade pact without any aid package at all.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN DELANEY: When you vote no on this, you have to be really confident that you're going to have it one day. Workers are going to get affected whether we do these trade deals or not. We need this program. And so I think over time, Democrats are going to realize hey, there's some probability, if I continue to play this brinkmanship, that we lose TAA forever or that it gets watered down to get something approved by more Republicans.

SUMMERS: Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin suggested the president spend his weekend working the phones. Juana Summers, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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