White House makes final pitch for Obama trade fast-track

Tomorrow there's a critical vote on giving President Obama fast-track authority over a Pacific trade deal, an issue that has divided Democrats. While the president is pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, others have pushed back over worker concerns. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the administration’s perspective.

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    The White House and advocates of a Pacific trade deal are scrambling, as a critical vote to give the president fast track trade authority is set for tomorrow.

    The issue has Democrats divided, with the president pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and others pushing back over worker concerns.

    I talked with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest a short time ago.

    Josh Earnest, welcome.

    So, the administration seems to be fighting a battle on two different fronts. Where do the votes stand today?

  • JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary:

    Well, Judy, the case that we're making, principally to Democrats, but to some Republicans, is that the trade promotion authority that Congress is prepared to consider is the most progressive piece of trade legislation that the Congress has ever tried to pass.

    It includes enforceable labor standards, enforceable environmental standards. It includes written language about human rights and the need to respect basic human rights. This is all about raising standards, so that we can start to level the playing field and open up opportunities for American business in overseas markets.

    That will be good for our economy and it will be good for creating jobs right here in America. And we feel like we have got a pretty persuasive pitch to make to Democrats and Republicans, and I anticipate that we're going to be making that pitch right up until the deadline.


    Well, I'm sure you know Republicans have problems with the trade — with the fast track authority. Your Democratic progressive friends are calling the trade package — they're using words like undue secrecy, stretching the limits of executive power. They are pretty upset about this.


    Well, Judy, when it comes to the secrecy argument, there's just no truth to it.

    The fact of the matter is, every single member of Congress can see where the negotiating document currently stands. We, obviously, haven't finished this trade agreement, but we're hoping to soon. So every member of Congress before they cast a vote, if they're curious to understand exactly where the negotiations stand, they can go see for themselves.

    The fact is, if and when a deal is completed, the president has indicated that we would actually give the public 60 days to take a close look at that agreement before the president would even sign it. And then, after that, Congress would have an opportunity to debate the wisdom of this agreement, and, of course, that debate and the agreement would all take place in public.

    So there will be an opportunity for the public to have their say. But the fact is, right now, we're still negotiating an agreement, so the fact is, there's not an agreement to produce at this point.


    But, if that's the case, why then is there significant opposition from organized labor? Rich Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, is saying, this doesn't — doesn't just hurt industrial workers. It hurts professional workers. He said, it hurts teachers, it hurts public workers by doing away with the tax base, and he goes on.


    Judy, what we have seen, this is not unusual. Right?

    Democrats traditionally have reflexively been opposed to trade legislation, and a lot of that opposition is actually a reflection of the impact of previous trade bills. The fact is, what the president has said is, let's learn the lessons from those previous trade agreements, and actually make sure that we can put in place enforceable standards that will ensure that this kind of trade agreement is good for our economy and is good for middle-class workers.

    You will recall, Judy, that when president ran for president back in 2007 and 2008, he made a promise to Democratic voters at that time in a Democratic primary that he would renegotiate NAFTA to correct some of the flaws that were in that trade agreement. Well, turns out, as a part of these Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, both Canada and Mexico are included in those negotiations.

    And for the first time, we would write into our trade relationship with those two countries enforceable standards as it relates to raising labor standards, raising environmental standards, and actually making sure that there's protections in place for human rights. So, this is the president keeping a promise on this.



    I was just going to say, if these arguments are so strong, why are you having such a difficult time with members of your own party? I mean, the president has been making his case for months now, and it's coming right down to the wire, and it's not clear you are going to get what you're asking for.


    Well, Judy, what we have seen from Democrats is that, for decades, Democrats have almost consistently been opposed to trade agreements.

    So, we knew we were going to be pushing — moving uphill sort of against the stream when it comes to our own party politics. But, Judy, we had an opportunity to make our case in the United States Senate. And when it came down to the final vote, we got almost a third of Democrats in the Senate to vote in favor of this legislation.

    So, I don't if we're going to get that high a percentage in the House, but it is a good indication that when Democrats keep an open mind and actually consider this approach, there's ample reason for them to support the approach the president is advocating.


    So, at this point, just quickly, do you think — what do you think is going to happen when it comes to a vote?


    Well, at this point, Judy, we feel confident that, as we sort of work our way through the sausage-making process, that we're going to be able to build enough of a bipartisan majority, with Democrats and Republicans supporting it, to advance the legislation and give the president the opportunity to complete negotiations with the Trans-Pacific Partnership nations, and actually open up overseas markets to American goods and services that will create opportunity here in the United States.

    It will be good for our economy. And, most importantly, it will create the kind of good middle-class jobs that our economy relies on.


    Josh Earnest, the press secretary to the president, thank you very much.


    All right, thank you, Judy.

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