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Obama’s trade bill narrowly clears Senate, but then hurdles remain

In a key vote Thursday, the Senate advanced legislation that would strengthen the administration's hand in global trade. The president said the action to move toward a final vote was a big step forward. Political editor Lisa Desjardins joins Gwen Ifill to talk about that vote and the Patriot Act reauthorization bill.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The fight over the president’s push for speedy action on an international trade bill moved a critical step forward today, but the Senate spent much of its day today still locked in disagreement over the outcome.

  • SEN. SHERROD BROWN, D-Ohio:

    We’re fast-tracking this whole idea of a fast-track process. Why is that good for our country? Why is that good for our workers? Why is that good for our small manufacturers and the supply chains of all these big industries? Why is that good for our communities?

    We have waited eight years, and this has to be done today, Mr. President? Eight years, we have waited for this, and we have one full day of debate, and then the majority leader shut down the debate.

  • SEN. ORRIN HATCH, R-Utah:

    Our nation’s economic health and prestige are on the line here today. The TPA bill is the only way Congress can effectively assert its priorities in our ongoing trade negotiations. It’s the only way that we can ensure that our trade negotiators can reach good deals with our trading partners.

    And it’s the only way we can ensure that our pending trade agreements even have a shot at reaching the finish line.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The president scored a narrow victory, as the Senate voted to move the legislation ahead, by only two votes. He called it a big step forward, but there were strings attached.

    Joining us to talk about what happened behind the scenes, and what’s up next, as Congress prepares to leave for a break, is political editor Lisa Desjardins on Capitol Hill.

    So, Lisa, tell us the significance of that vote today.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    It was hugely significant, Gwen.

    In one way, this debate over trade does cast unions against large international U.S. corporations. But on a larger sense, getting past that simplistic view, it’s about the future of world commerce and the U.S. role in it. How much do you think free trade helps this country? How much does it hurt it?

    And that all collided in a very dramatic scene on the Senate floor today. This bill needed 60 votes today. And if you look at the video of what was happening, you pay attention to that one group of people there just near the desk, you can see the blue jacket. That’s Maria Cantwell. She’s a Democrat who supports free trade in general. Look for the moment when she votes yes.

    You see Mitch McConnell there convince her to vote yes. And, Gwen, in part, that’s the string you were talking about over the issue of the Export-Import Bank. Without getting to deep into it, that’s a bank that supplies loans to many American companies, including Boeing, which is in Ms. Cantwell’s district. And that was something she insisted be part of this deal, that there would be a vote to renew the Export-Import Bank, which it would otherwise expire in June.

    So we’re seeing a number of trade issues collide at one time today.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    There were reports that the president even called people like Senator Cantwell in the Cloakroom to try to do a little arm-twisting there at the end.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    That’s right. There were calls made late last night late into the night from the White House.

    And all day today, there was definitely some real arm-twisting. In the end, this bill, the fast-track trade authority, got 60 votes. And what that does is, that really clears the way for the president to get fast-track authority approval in the Senate, which ultimately could lead to this large Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that many people are watching closely.

    But, Gwen, one caution. This was a huge hurdle that the president got over today in his trade agenda today, but he faces another big one in the House, where this fast-track authority also faces some very rocky cliffs.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The — I want to talk about something else which the Senate has been taking up, and that is the question about privacy, security, surveillance, the NSA surveillance, which we saw Rand Paul take over the floor of the House for about 10 hours yesterday. Did that make — was there any movement on that today?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    There wasn’t, Gwen, but it’s something we need to watch carefully over the next 24 hours, maybe even over the next two or three hours, because the truth, is, the way it stands right now, that some key provisions of the Patriot Act, including that provision allowing bulk collection of phone data, those are set to expire at the end of the month.

    With the Senate, as you said, getting ready to leave town, they need to deal with it if those provisions are going to stay intact, if the Patriot Act will live. Now, what the problem is, is that the House has passed a version that excludes that phone metadata power.

    There’s great debate in the Senate whether intelligence agencies need to have that kind of broad power or not, and it seems, Gwen, at this moment, there aren’t votes for any kind of deal, whether to drop that collection ability or to just pass a temporary two-month extension. Neither one has enough support to make it in the Senate at this moment.

    So we know that the Senate Intelligence chairman, the Associated Press reports, is trying to work out a compromise. Stay tuned. This could easily go into the weekend.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And we’re still waiting on action on transportation and other issues as well.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Yes. That’s right.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Lisa Desjardins for us up on Capitol Hill tonight, thank you.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    You got it.

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