RINOs to the Rescue: A Rare Partnership on Free Trade

“It was like an out-of-body experience,” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says. He was talking about his congratulatory phone call from President Obama after Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) passed the Senate last week. “It was kind of fun.” McConnell enjoyed hearing the president castigate Democrats who voted against TPA and oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty whose passage is now all but certain.

It was an important victory for Obama, undoubtedly the biggest accomplishment of his second term. He gets credit for sticking with a treaty that his party and its interest groups loathe. He lobbied Democrats in the House and Senate.

Presidents have traditionally played an influential role in struggles over trade. But Obama’s role was small. He was expected to keep the minority of Democrats who support free trade from defecting—nothing more. “I give the president credit,” McConnell says. “He did reinforce those who intended to vote for it.” Their votes were crucial.

In the Senate, 14 of 46 Democrats voted for TPA when it came up in early June. Last week, Obama lost 1 of the 14, Ben Cardin of Maryland, as the measure survived a Democratic filibuster. Cardin voted no only after TPA had gotten the 60 votes required to move ahead to the treaty itself later this summer. TPA bars amendments, preventing a trade agreement from being killed by hostile amendments.

For weeks, House Republicans were in constant contact with the White House. Republicans found that relations were positive and professional. “White House officials found it easier to work with Congress on trade now that Republicans control both houses,” the New York Times reported. (Read more from “Republicans to the Rescue: A Rare Partnership on Free Trade” HERE)

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