Senate Narrowly Advances President Obama's Trade Bill: Here’s Why It Was So Close

PHOTO: FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2014, cyclists ride on Capitol Hill in Washington. J. Scott Applewhite, File / AP Photo
FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2014, cyclists ride on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The Senate narrowly advanced a bill that would give President Obama the “fast-track” authority to negotiate trade deals with foreign partners.

Sixty votes were needed to move forward with the measure, and the Senate voted 62 to 38 in favor of invoking cloture -- setting up a vote on final passage for this week before the Senate leaves for Memorial Day recess.

The vote was a squeaker, going down to the wire with many observers unsure how a group of senators, led by Sens. Maria Cantwell, R-Washington, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, threatening to vote against advancing the measure if a vote was not held on the Export-Import bank.

With Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, draping his arms over the South Carolinian's shoulder, Graham and Cantwell were at the center of intense negotiations on the Senate floor with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who eventually assured the senators he would allow a vote on the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank despite personally opposing the measure. After nearly thirty minutes of huddling, Graham and Cantwell voted in favor of invoking cloture on the trade bill, opening the floodgates for other senators to advance the measure.

Many Senate Democrats, who normally side with the White House on its legislative agenda, opposed the measure over concerns about a lack of amendments and secrecy surrounding the bill.

“We’re going to shut down debate on the first full day of consideration?” Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said ahead of the vote. “We’re not being unreasonable. We’re playing this straight. We’re simply asking for the Senate to debate this legislation.”

Before the vote, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, offered votes on nine amendments to the measure, but Brown objected, saying it didn’t reflect a thorough amendment process.

If the Senate failed to advance the bill, it would have sent a brutal blow to the White House. Last week, Senate Democrats defeated the first effort to move forward with the legislation.

“What we just witnessed here is Democratic senators shutting down debate on the top economic priority of the Democratic president of the United States,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at the time.

Obama acquired some unlikely allies in his push for obtaining negotiating authority for trade deals. McConnell was one of the pivotal lawmakers advocating in favor of the president’s plan. But the debate has put the president at odds with some of his top Democratic supporters, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who engaged in a back and forth battle with the president over the deal.