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How Obama’s fast-track authority came to pass

The Senate gave final passage to the near-dead Trade Promotion Authority, which paves the way for a major international trade pact. To explore how it was revived, Gwen Ifill talks to political director Lisa Desjardins.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    After weeks of negotiation, the Senate voted today to approve one of the president’s top priorities: permission to pave a speedy path toward an international trade deal.

    The fast track trade promotion authority would require the full text of any trade deal to be made public. It would give Congress up to 90 days to vote it up or down, and it would ban Congress from amending the trade deal. It was a big turnaround on Capitol Hill, and a big victory for the president.

    Political director Lisa Desjardins joins me now to explain how it happened.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    This is literally the Phoenix from the ashes.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    That’s exactly right. What a turnaround from last week, when all of this blew up in the House.

    Now the Senate took it on. And here is what happened, Gwen, change in strategy. Last week, those who supported this idea put together something Republicans liked, which is this fast track trade authority, with something Democrats like, which is assistance to workers who lose their job, coupled those together.

    Well, Democrats realized there was a flaw there. They voted against the one part that they were expected to vote for, and the whole thing crumbled. Now do-over, and instead they — people who support this, including the president, have taken these two issues separately, and today’s vote was on fast track authority only. It had the votes last week. It had just a couple votes less this week, but it has made final passage.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And this time, they linked it to something else that members wanted.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    That’s right.

    What they have done here is, they have added to that second piece, which they have separated, the worker assistance. They have placed that inside a bill for an African trade deal that is very popular with, guess who, the Black Caucus, Democrats in the House. They’re not going to vote against that.

    And they also added to it one other thing, some provisions that the steel industry likes, something that helps them in international competition. That’s another group of Democrats that cannot vote against that. And so Democrats’ strategy last week no longer in play, because there’s two more sweeteners in the pot that they support.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, let’s be clear for viewers.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What passed the Senate today was the trade promotion authority, this fast track deal.

    But what still has to now pass the House is this assistance program you’re talking about.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    That’s right.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, we saw Nancy Pelosi today basically change her mind and bring along her leadership to support the president, finally.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    That’s right.

    Just to pull back a little bit, for those who have been watching today, the Senate passed both trade promotion authority and this assistance program separately. The first one had already passed the House, goes to the president, fast track. But the other one, you’re right, that’s the assistance program. That goes back to the House.

    And you’re right. The big story is Nancy Pelosi. Last week, she took a stand against it, trying to bring down the whole bundle of things. Now her office tells me, because they’re separated, she wants to help these workers, and she did in fact say she’s supporting this when it gets to the House, a vote we expect tomorrow.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, this is all — when we talk about fast track, this is all of a sudden moving along very quickly.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    It is. It’s almost in a blink of the eye, in the last two days. This has completely turned around.

    And for those who are very nervous about the ultimate endgame here, which is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that giant trade deal with much of the Pacific Rim, they’re worried that what this fast track bill will do is it kind of makes that TPP deal, or Trans-Pacific Partnership, much more likely.

    But, Gwen, that’s not all that’s at stake. Also coming down the pike, a big trade deal with Europe. I talked to one senator yesterday. He said, put those together, the Pacific deal, the European deal, 60 percent of the world’s GDP. And it was fascinating. He said to me, Gwen, this could be the last big trade deal in a generation.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    There’s always presidential politics involved in a lot of these things.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Yes. Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But there was one particular vote that turned — around turned yesterday, today, which I found interesting.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Yes. Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And that’s Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, who as recently as last week was saying this is a great deal for America, this trade deal, but now not so much.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Right, voted for it, in fact, wrote an op-ed in favor of this fast track deal, and then this week voted against it.

    He said the reason why is, the circumstances have changed. I’m not sure how the circumstances have changed, but certainly his analysis of it has. He says he looked at it again, and believes that this fast track power gives the president too much authority. He also said he wanted to vote against the way that House Republicans were trying to basically beat Republicans into voting yes.

    I don’t know. He — it seems like maybe the politics have changed here as well.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The politics changed for the House and for the Democrats in the House and at least one Republican in the Senate as well.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Lisa Desjardins, as always, thank you.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    My pleasure.

     

     

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