President Barack Obama has begun to barrage House Democrats with phone calls in hopes of explaining to members of his own party why they should break their near uniform opposition and support his trade agenda.
House Republicans, meanwhile, are feeling newfound optimism that at least 190 of their lawmakers will support so-called trade promotion authority giving the president power to fast-track free-trade agreements. That would mean roughly 27 Democrats would need to support the legislation in order to hand Obama his largest legislative victory in years. Eighteen Democrats are currently on record backing the bill.
It?s now up to Obama to flip the rest.
Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry will meet with undecided Republicans this week to press them to vote yes. A significant number of GOP lawmakers are holding out and will commit to no one other than Boehner and McCarthy. They want to convey to the top two leaders how tough of a vote this is.
Republican leaders are sparing no effort in the whip effort and believe they?re on track to notch a historically high vote total for a trade bill. Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also has several meetings with lawmakers who are undecided or currently opposed to the package. He will also join GOP leadership in a meeting Wednesday with trade associations, agriculture groups and manufacturers that?s expected to draw 150 attendees.
In a sign of the GOP?s confidence, House Republican leadership sources say they could bring the package of trade bills to the floor for a vote as soon as next week. Top aides and lawmakers say, however, that a vote could easily slip to the week of June 15. Republicans want to make sure they schedule a vote as soon as they have the support to pass the package. They are nervous about the White House?s ability to keep Democrats in line.
Getting the needed number of House Democrats on board is the biggest test of Obama?s legislative prowess in years. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland are undecided. Hoyer?s noncommittal posture on the issue is a logistical challenge because the pro-fast-track Democrats will not have their whip on the House floor.
The stakes couldn?t be higher for the president. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the top legislative priority for his final years in office and passage of the deal would mark the largest trade initiative in decades. Its defeat would be a major embarrassment for the United States on the world stage.
Should it pass the House, it would also be a major victory for Republican leaders who have worked for months to whittle down opposition and build support.
Obama is trying to assuage individual Democrats? lingering concerns. He was successful in easing Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter?s resistance to TPA: The Denver-area Democrat once was a firm no but said he might support the bill after meeting with Obama and speaking with him on the phone. Obama agreed to work with Perlmutter on infrastructure projects, sources said.