Democrats freeze fast-track authority for Asia trade deal

Senate Democrats blocked debate on renewing fast-track negotiating authority for President Obama, deemed vital for winning passing a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Opponents of the bill, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, say details of the negotiated plan have been kept secret by the White House. Gwen Ifill reports.

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    One of the president's remaining top legislative goals is to get a major new trade accord with Asia. But he suffered a stinging defeat today in the opening battle to gain the authority to speed a deal through Congress. The magic number to start a full Senate debate was 60 votes. But, in falling short, it showed just how polarizing the disagreement over international trade really is.

  • MAN:

    On this vote, the yeas are 52; the nays are 45.


    In the end, trade politics put the president at odds with many in his own party and in line with most Republicans.

    SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R) Utah: We're talking about President Obama's top priority, his top legislative priority, and one of the most important bills in this president's service as president of the United States of America.

    SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) New York: We know the global economy is a rough sea. And Republicans are asking us to pass a trade package that forces the American worker to navigate those waters in a leaky boat. We want to plug up those leaks.


    The result, at least for now, is that the Senate has blocked renewal of the fast track negotiating authority that Mr. Obama wanted. That would allow Congress to approve, but not amend, future trade deals.

    It's deemed vital to winning passage of a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. TPP, as it's known, would include 11 mostly Asian nations that, together with the U.S., account for some 40 percent of the global economy. Supporters say it would bring greater prosperity by removing tariffs and other barriers and opening trade.

    The president visited the sportswear manufacturer Nike last week, which announced the deal would create allow them to create 10,000 American jobs.


    The future of Nike and this country depend not only on what we make, but how we make it. And we want to get to the future faster.


    But opponents, including most Democrats, have a litany of complaints. Only one Democrat voted with the president today. They argue the trade pact would actually cost American jobs and fail to include enough environmental or labor protections.

    Some public health groups say the agreement would also delay introduction of low-cost generic medicines. There are also concerns it doesn't adequately address currency manipulation. And some on both sides of the aisle say the deal might give foreign corporations too much power to challenge U.S. laws.

    Opponents also say the White House has kept the details of the negotiated plan secret.

    Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts spoke on NPR this morning.

    SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D) Massachusetts: I have been able to go to a special secured room. I can't take any electronic devices, no computer, no iPhone. I can't even walk out with paper notes. I can go and read about the agreement, but I cannot come out in public and talk about any of the specifics.


    The president took on Warren directly in a Yahoo! News interview last week.


    So, when you take off the concrete arguments that are being made, there's no — there's no logic that I think a progressive should embrace that would make you opposed to this deal.


    But as the fast track vote went down in flames today, Press Secretary Josh Earnest dismissed it repeatedly as a — quote — "procedural snafu."

  • JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary:

    What I'm confident is that the — that a no-vote on this procedural situation shouldn't be interpreted as a change in position on the substance of the bill.


    Supporters of the bill say they will regroup, but it's unclear for now what their next step will be.

    After the vote, President Obama met with Senate Democrats this afternoon to discuss what happens next.

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