Obama Team Reaches Out to Dems on Trade Pact, But the Party’s Split Remains

The U.S. trade representative said members would have more access to documents related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership—but some Democrats are still unsatisfied.

Michael Froman
National Journal
Eric Garcia
Add to Briefcase
Eric Garcia
March 18, 2015, 2:07 p.m.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on Wed­nes­day offered new con­ces­sions in a bid for Demo­crat­ic sup­port for new trade deals, but in-per­son meet­ings from high-rank­ing of­fi­cials—and prom­ises of more ac­cess to in­side in­form­a­tion on the ne­go­ti­ations—were not enough to win over some of the pres­id­ent’s fel­low Demo­crats.

U.S. Trade Rep­res­ent­at­ive Mi­chael Fro­man had two meet­ings with House Demo­crats Wed­nes­day, one ac­com­pan­ied by Treas­ury Sec­ret­ary Jack Lew and the oth­er by Labor Sec­ret­ary Thomas Perez, among oth­ers. Both were re­lated to the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, a free-trade agree­ment among 12 Asia-Pa­cific coun­tries, in­clud­ing the United States, Aus­tralia, Ja­pan, and Mex­ico. The meet­ings were first re­por­ted by The Hill news­pa­per.

As a part of the meet­ing, the of­fi­cials also gran­ted mem­bers of Con­gress more ac­cess to doc­u­ments re­lated to the ne­go­ti­ations—a re­sponse to cri­ti­cism from mem­bers that they’ve lacked in­form­a­tion about the ne­go­ti­ations.

Fro­man told re­port­ers after the meet­ing with House Demo­crats that Perez said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had worked with com­mit­tees to make cer­tain changes to in­crease ac­cess­ib­il­ity. “We de­cided today to move for­ward with some early ac­tions in this area by mak­ing the text avail­able in the se­cur­ity of­fice, hav­ing plain lan­guage sum­mar­ies of each chapter to help fa­cil­it­ate mem­bers’ un­der­stand­ing and ac­cess to the text,” Fro­man said, adding that mem­bers will be al­lowed to bring staff with ap­pro­pri­ate se­cur­ity clear­ances.

Rep. Lloyd Dog­gett, a Demo­crat from Texas, wel­comed ac­cess­ib­il­ity, as well as the abil­ity to see the po­s­i­tions of for­eign gov­ern­ments on dis­puted points of the deal. “It’s of par­tic­u­lar im­port­ance to see the po­s­i­tions that coun­tries are tak­ing,” Dog­gett told Na­tion­al Journ­al.

But even as the ad­min­is­tra­tion at­temp­ted to boost trans­par­ency, there were re­mind­ers of the talks’ secrecy. “They handed me the doc­u­ments, wouldn’t al­low me to take any notes when I was read­ing the doc­u­ments, wouldn’t al­low me to keep any notes, wouldn’t al­low me to have my staff in the of­fice, ac­tu­ally told me I couldn’t dis­cuss it with oth­er mem­bers,” Rep. Alan Grayson told Na­tion­al Journ­al after one of the meet­ings.

And the in­tra­party rift over trade policy clearly re­mains open. One par­tic­u­lar point of con­ten­tion is trade-pro­mo­tion au­thor­ity, a “fast-track” power the ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­ques­ted that would give the ex­ec­ut­ive branch more lever­age to ne­go­ti­ate trade deals. Any deals reached would still but sub­ject to con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al, but the le­gis­lat­ive in­put would be lim­ited to an up-or-down vote in Con­gress, and law­makers would not have the abil­ity to amend the deals.

Demo­crat­ic Rep. Rosa De­Lauro of Con­necti­c­ut said there are still not the votes for provid­ing that power. “There are a lot of un­answered ques­tions that we would have and be­fore we would be­gin to think about provid­ing trade pro­mo­tion au­thor­ity,” she said.

What We're Following See More »
Nadler: Goodlatte Could Subpoena Rosenstein
4 days ago

"The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee says Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is poised to subpoena the Justice Department for former FBI Director James Comey’s memos, which the agency so far has failed to produce. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., warned such a move puts Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in jeopardy of being placed in contempt of Congress and the special counsel investigation of being shut down prematurely."

House Ag Committee Passes Farm Bill
4 days ago
"On a party-line vote, the House Agriculture Committee approved a five-year farm bill on Wednesday that tweaks the supports now in place—a promise of certainty, leaders said, during a period of low commodity prices and threats of a trade war with agriculture on the front line." The bill includes no new funding over the last farm bill.
Schneiderman Urges NY Lawmakers to Close “Double Jeopardy Loophole”
4 days ago
Ryan Tamps Down AUMF Talk
5 days ago

Referring to the AUMF introduced by Sens. Tim Kaine and Bob Corker Monday evening, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday "he won’t allow any bill to come to the House floor that he thinks would restrict military commanders’ ability to fight." Ryan "defended the legality of U.S. military strikes last week against chemical weapons-related sites in Syria, saying President Trump had the authority to order them under the Constitution’s Article II commander-in-chief powers."

Judge Denies Requests by Cohen, Trump
6 days ago

Attorneys for both President Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen lost a court challenge today, as they sought to suppress evidence gathered in a raid of Cohen's office and hotel room. "U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood denied the requests and ruled that prosecutors will get first access to the information, followed by Cohen’s defense team ten days later. Wood noted that she has not yet decided whether she will appoint a special master in the case at all."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.