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Senate Votes To Push Forward White House Trade Plans


A bill that would give the White House expedited authority to enter into a Pacific Rim trade agreement finally appears to be on a path to the president's desk. The bill cleared a major procedural hurdle in the Senate today. It was a do-over after legislation passed in the Senate then failed in the House. As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, how leaders got this build this far is a story about promises.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: What is a promise worth on Capitol Hill? That was the question dangling in front of 14 pro-trade Democrats in the Senate today. To secure their votes on the fast-track trade bill, Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, made that group a promise last Thursday. Vote yes like you did last time, and Congress will pass the three other trade bills that you've been pushing for.


MITCH MCCONNELL: Assuming that everyone has a little faith and votes the same way they did just a few weeks ago, we'll be able to get all of those bills to the president soon.

CHANG: Trust me. McConnell repeated that refrain yesterday too.


MCCONNELL: With just a little more trust, a little more cooperation and simply voting consistently, we'll get there.

CHANG: Capitol Hill is a place that operates on promises. But the question always is, which promises are credible? Thirteen of the pro-trade Democrats gave McConnell the benefit of the doubt today after house speaker, John Boehner, also promised he'd push through the other Democrats wanted. Here are Democrats Tim Kaine of Virginia, Patty Murray of Washington and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

TIM KAINE: Well, you know, we've been given assurances such as they are. You know, they've...

PATTY MURRAY: I needed a commitment on TAA from Boehner and McConnell. They have both given that, so you'll see my...

RON WYDEN: We felt that the statements they were putting out reflected that this was actually going to get done.

CHANG: What Democrats want to see get done are three other trade bills - one that would help workers displaced by trade agreements, another bill that would boost trade with African countries and another measure that would strengthen customs enforcement. Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland was the lone pro-trade Democrat who voted no today because he wasn't convinced that last bill, the customs bill, would get done the way he wanted.

BEN CARDIN: Yeah, I want to make it clear. It wasn't a trust factor. It was a factor that...

CHANG: But it kind of was. The House and Senate still have to work out differences on that bill, and Cardin wasn't sure what version would emerge.

CARDIN: So that doesn't give me the assurance that we will have the balance package at the end of the day.

CHANG: Assurance was what Texas Republican Ted Cruz wanted too and didn't get. When trade came to the floor the first time in May, some senators voted yes because they believed they'd get a chance to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank in return. Cruz says McConnell shouldn't have made that promise.

TED CRUZ: I asked Leader McConnell what deal had been cut and was given an explicit assurance in front of the entire conference that no deal had been cut whatsoever.

CHANG: But Cruz says that assurance was false, so he changed his vote to no today. A final vote on passage of the fast-track bill is tomorrow before the Senate moves on to the rest of the trade package, and then pro-trade Democrats will find out if the promises made to them are kept. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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