Divisive trade promotion authority legislation the White House is seeking to put the Trans-Pacific partnership on a fast-track to passage ran off the rails today, with the United States Senate voting mostly along party lines not to invoke cloture on the bill. The legislation could still come up again, but at least for the time being, it is blocked, much to the displeasure of Mitch McConnell and Barack Obama.
Fifty-two senators voted to proceed to final passage on the bill, not counting McConnell, who switched his vote from yes to no so that he could bring the legislation up again later. Forty-four senators voted to filibuster.
Although a number of Democrats support granting President Obama the fast-track authority he wants (including, unfortunately, the Pacific Northwest’s Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, and Ron Wyden), they all voted to filibuster today, with the lone exception of Thomas Carper of Delaware.
The reason? Leverage. Fast-track is a major priority for Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican. He wants it bad. Knowing this, Democrats insisted that McConnell bring up three other semi-related pieces of trade legislation as well.
The first, called Trade Adjustment Assistance, is meant to help workers who find themselves out of work due to foreign competition. Another pertains to custom and trade enforcement, and has provisions concerning currency manipulation. The third would set up trade preferences for nations in sub-Saharan Africa.
McConnell refused to bring up the latter two bills, and so the Democrats stuck together and filibustered the fast-track bill.
“The group is concerned about the lack of a commitment to trade enforcement, which is specifically the customs bill,” Wyden explained to reporters, speaking for himself and other pro-fast-track Democrats. “Until there is a path to get all four bills passed… we will, certainly most of us, have to vote no.”
The White House tried to downplay the failed vote as a “procedural snafu”.
But Jim Dean of Democracy for America characterized it much differently.
“Under intense pressure from progressives, the Senate voted 52 to 45 to block debate on Fast Track legislation that would have forbidden Congress from making amendments to the TPP,” he wrote in an email to DFA supporters.
“Nearly everyone expected the White House to win this cloture vote comfortably. Now, pro-corporate administration officials and Republicans are scrambling, trying to figure out what to do next.”
“This vote is more than an amazing but isolated victory. It’s irrefutable proof that the Warren wing of the Democratic party can defeat the TPP. Our activism is working. Democrats are waking up and realizing that votes to support a pro-corporate agenda over working families will have real, lasting consequences.”
(Full disclosure: NPI President Robert Cruickshank serves as a senior campaign manager for Democracy for America.)
Voting Aye: Republicans Mike Crap and Jim Risch (ID), Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (AK), Steve Daines (MT)
Voting Nay: Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR), Jon Tester (MT)
Republicans Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham did not participate in the vote. Democrat Cory Booker also did not participate.