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Just Do It: Obama Tries To Sway Skeptical Democrats On Trade

It's proving difficult for President Obama to win over Democrats on trade so far.
Brendan Smialowski
AFP/Getty Images
It's proving difficult for President Obama to win over Democrats on trade so far.

President Obama met Thursday with moderate Democrats in hopes of rallying support for a controversial Asia-Pacific trade deal.

The president will need approval from at least some members of his own party to win passage of a "fast-track" bill, authorizing him to complete trade negotiations and present the agreement for an up-or-down vote in Congress.

So far, most Democratic lawmakers have been skeptical.

"I don't think enough of our issues have been resolved for us to be having a big movement of votes toward the bill," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday. "Hopefully we can have some accommodations" to make the agreement more palatable.

"What does it do to increase the paycheck of America's workers?" Pelosi asked. Democrats worry that any further liberalization of trade rules would lead to a greater exodus of U.S. jobs. And they complain past trade agreements, including NAFTA and the three-year-old pact with South Korea have not lived up to expectations.

Republican lawmakers are generally more supportive of trade deals, and House Speaker John Boehner promised "strong Republican support" for the fast-track bill. Some Tea Party members are wary, however, of giving the president any additional negotiating authority. The more House Republicans that withhold support, the bigger boost Obama will need from his own party.

"The president needs to step up his game in terms of garnering more support amongst Democrats, especially here in the House," Boehner said Thursday. "I don't think those who are involved in trade have done a very good job of helping the American [people] understand the benefits of trade and why, in fact, it's good for America."

Political operatives close to the president commissioned a poll which shows a narrow majority of Democrats — 52 percent — back the Asia-Pacific trade deal. That number climbed to 82 percent when survey respondents were told the deal would make it easier for American companies to export products, and that it would raise labor and environmental standards.

The survey was released on Thursday by a group calling itself the "Progressive Coalition for American Jobs." Other progressive groups, which generally oppose the trade agreement, mocked the new coalition as an artificial vehicle for promoting the president's trade agenda.

Next week, Obama takes his trade show on the road — to Oregon. That's the home state of Sen. Ron Wyden, who's one of the top Democrats supporting the deal. Obama plans to take part in a pro-trade event at Nike. The Beaverton, Ore., company relies heavily on contract factories in Asia to produce its goods. Nike sneakers made in Vietnam could see lower tariffs if the trade deal is approved.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.