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House Dems stifle Obama on trade deal

WASHINGTON - House Democrats delivered an embarrassing rebuke to President Obama on Friday, blocking a trade bill that he hopes can help solidify his legacy just hours after the president made a personal appeal for support on Capitol Hill.

WASHINGTON - House Democrats delivered an embarrassing rebuke to President Obama on Friday, blocking a trade bill that he hopes can help solidify his legacy just hours after the president made a personal appeal for support on Capitol Hill.

Using a legislative twist that seemed appropriate for the strange alliances that formed in the fight, the House stalled a plan to give Obama "fast track" authority - negotiating power that supporters say is critical to sealing the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The bill granting Obama trade promotion authority actually passed the House, 219-211. But that came after Democrats rejected a companion bill to provide financial aid to displaced workers. The two bills can only go to Obama's desk as a package.

The battle may not be over. Republican House leaders plan to bring another vote as early as next week, hoping that a weekend of pressure from the White House, or perhaps legislative tweaks, can change the outcome and salvage Obama's chances of sealing the trade pact.

The deal would bind together countries that account for 40 percent of the global economy, including the United States, Mexico, Japan, and Australia, and others in the Pacific Rim. Obama has made it one of his highest priorities, arguing - along with Republican leaders - that it will boost jobs and the economy.

A White House spokesman noted that the trade bill also stalled in the Senate at first before eventually passing, and downplayed Friday's vote as a "procedural snafu." In a statement, the president urged lawmakers to reconsider so "more middle-class workers can earn the chance to participate and succeed in our global economy."

He and GOP leaders face fierce opposition from unions, who have won over most Democrats with their concerns that the trade deal will kill U.S. jobs and drive down wages.

Even after the president made a surprise visit to the Capitol on Friday morning, one of his closest allies, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), went to the House floor and urged her colleagues to "slow down the fast track to get a better deal for the American people."

The measure as is would limit Congress to an up-or-down vote on any final trade deal, an authority granted to many previous presidents. The aim is to assure negotiating partners that agreements won't be altered by lawmakers. Supporters say that means other countries will be more willing to make their best offers.

Every Democrat from the Philadelphia area - each with deep labor ties - voted against the fast-track bill and the related measure, even though they had been backed by the likes of Mayor Nutter and former Gov. Ed Rendell.

Also opposing the bills were two South Jersey Republicans from labor-heavy districts, Reps. Frank LoBiondo and Tom MacArthur, each bucking GOP leadership.

The three Pennsylvania Republicans from Philadelphia's suburbs - Reps. Ryan Costello, Mike Fitzpatrick, and Patrick Meehan - supported the twin bills aimed at advancing the trade deal.

Philadelphia Rep. Brendan Boyle (D., Pa.) said it was "uncomfortable" in his first year in office to go against a Democratic president he usually supports. He described Obama's presentation in the morning as sincere, eloquent, and passionate.

"In the end, I voted my conscience and I had to vote no," Boyle said.

He, Pelosi, and other Democrats instead urged lawmakers to focus on an infrastructure program to create jobs at home. Pelosi, in a letter to Democrats released by her office, said approval of a highway bill would "greatly increase" the odds that the trade measures could pass.

Republicans warned that if the U.S. doesn't join in trade deal, other nations will take advantage.

"The world is watching us right now," Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), the former vice presidential nominee, said on the House floor. "Every single day we do nothing to open these markets up, we lose and the rest of the world gets those jobs."

Ryan also said the pending deal would let the U.S. - and not China - set the economic ground rules in the Pacific.

But the bill to help displaced workers gave Democrats a strange piece of leverage to stop the trade plan.

Democrats who would typically back aid to workers but opposed the trade deal joined with conservative Republicans to defeat the assistance bill, 302-126.

Rep. Donald Norcross (D., N.J.) called the vote "the equivalent of an execution," since passing it meant helping the trade deal.

"You're getting to choose your last meal, but the end result is you're dead, or in this case, you're losing your job," said Norcross, a former AFL-CIO leader in South Jersey.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.) had a different metaphor: He said Democrats "took the child hostage" by voting against a program they support.

About 100,000 workers benefit from the aid program, Obama said.

Now, Dent said, Democrats have to worry about the assistance expiring on their watch, unless some change their votes.

"They're going to have a chance to stew in their own muck over this one," said Dent, of Allentown. "Do they want to undermine our nation's trade agenda and a program of significance to dislocated and disrupted workers?"

They may soon get a chance to answer.

How They Voted

A plan aimed at helping President Obama complete an international trade agreement stalled in the House on Friday.

One piece of the package was approved, but a companion bill was blocked - stopping both, at least for now. Here is how local lawmakers voted:


Ryan Costello (R., Pa.)

Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.)

Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.)

Charlie Dent (R., Pa.)


Brendan Boyle (D., Pa.)

Robert Brady (D., Pa.)

Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.)

Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.)

Tom MacArthur (R., N.J.)

Chris Smith (R., N.J.) EndText