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But the president’s charm offensive wasn’t enough to convince House Democrats to approve the deal today, leaving its fate uncertain heading into next week.
Of the trade package that cleared the Senate, the House narrowly passed Trade Promotion Authority, which gives the president greater authority to negotiate a trade deal with Pacific-rim nations. But the passage of Trade Adjustment Assistance, an aid program for workers displaced by global trade, was scuttled in a 126-to-302 vote, with many Democrats hoping a “nay” vote could force a new trade deal on their terms.
The TAA’s "defeat is the only way we will be able to slow down the fast track," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said on the floor moments before today's vote.
But with TPA's passage and a second vote on the TAA scheduled for early next week, Democrats don’t have the same leverage they enjoyed before today's House vote, according to Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.
"The hostage that some people thought they had is gone," said Cuellar, one of the few Democrats who supported both measures. "The only thing remaining on the table is [the worker assistance program]."
Republicans supplied 86 votes for the TAA, a measure many in the party opposed. Party leaders suggested after the vote that the burden is on Democrats to supply the 91 lacking votes needed to pass the measure.
"The president's got to work with his party to come up with the votes to pass TAA," said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana. "You saw a really strong showing today of Republicans combined with free-trade Democrats."
"If I was the Democrats, I'd seriously rethink something this weekend," added House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California.
In a statement after the votes, Obama said the House's inaction on the worker program "will directly hurt about 100,000 workers and their communities if those Members of Congress don’t reconsider."
But with tepid support for the measure among Democratic leadership and rank-and-file, how will Obama gin up support over the weekend?
"Lots and lots of phone calls," Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, said after today’s vote.