President Obama made a last-ditch effort to get House Democrats on board with his trade agenda, motorcading to the opposite side of Pennsylvania Avenue to huddle with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her caucus just hours before votes on whether to give the president authority to negotiate a sweeping trade deal with Pacific-rim nations.
Despite his personal touch, not even the president seemed sure he’d have enough votes needed to surpass the 217 needed to pass the bill.
“I don't think you ever nail anything down around here. It's always moving,” he said, responding to a shouted question after leaving a meeting, with Pelosi at his side.
The vote is expected to be razor-thin. The president took no questions during his last-minute appeal, but spoke for about 45 minutes to a standing-room only contingent of about 140-150 Democrats, according to several aides who were present.
Afterwards, several progressive Democrats said the president gave an impassioned speech but did not change their minds.
“I thought he gave a good speech,” said Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, who added that the president “didn't change my mind.”
Republicans are expected to deliver about 100 votes on Trade Adjustment Assistance, a worker training program that needs Democratic votes to pass. The House has to pass TAA in order to vote on Trade Promotion Authority, which would give “fast-track” authority to the president to negotiate the trade deal with limited congressional intervention.
“Obviously he thinks this trade deal will help the American economy and help working families,” said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-California, who opposes the deal. “The vast majority of Democrats and 100 percent of all those organizations of working people disagree.”
While Republicans are expected to carry the load on the TPA vote, some Democrats have publicly declared their support.
“This is a president we should trust,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Illinois, a supporter of the deal. “All we're doing as Democrats is showing that we trust him in giving him this trade authority.”
Obama's visit was the second such grand gesture in 24 hours, coming after Obama stopped by the congressional baseball game at Nationals Stadium to shake hands and likely try to change some Democratic minds.
Democrats have concerns over the funding mechanism for TAA, and fear that giving the president Trade Promotion Authority will lead to a trade agreement that leads to Americans jobs moving overseas. Big labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, have also vehemently opposed the bill.
Despite their fears, Democrats appeared to heartily welcome the president’s visit, applauding him as he walked into the meeting room in the House Visitors’ Center.