The Senate advanced a major trade bill Thursday, after a last-minute deal on a vote to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank prompted Sen. Maria Cantwell and others to break away from a powwow on the chamber floor to say, "Aye."
The bill, known as "fast-track" or trade-promotion authority, would help secure key objectives in the administration's economic agenda: legacy-defining trade pacts with the Pacific and European countries. The vote, 62 to 38, came over the objections of anti-trade senators, who claimed that the Senate GOP leadership—President Obama's strange bedfellows on free trade—had throttled debate, allowing only two votes so far despite around 200 amendments filed.
"The last time we did fast-track legislation on the Senate floor it was three weeks of debate," said Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. "This is about three days."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had set up the procedural vote Thursday despite other time-sensitive deadlines determining the National Security Agency's bulk-collection authority and highway funding. But he seemed aware of the possibility of failing on Wednesday afternoon. "Well we're going to grind on and finish TPA," he said, "if those who say they're for it end up voting for it."
Those members included Washington state Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who formed a tight circle with McConnell on the floor to hash out an agreement for a future vote on authorizing the Export Import bank, whose charter expires at the end of next month. The bank, which helps finances U.S. businesses' exports, is synonymous with "crony capitalism" by conservatives and many House Republicans who wish to kill it. But the bank is also popular with many Senate Republicans, including Graham, who—like the Washington state senators—represents a state with a significant stake in the success of Boeing.
"If we get votes, we win," said Graham, an ardent supporter of the bank. "All I've asked for is a vote."
The highway-trust-fund vote will come in July, after the bank has expired "for a few weeks," Graham said. But given that the highway trust fund must pass, supporters of the bank believe that it will be reinstated. "But we want a vote [in June], before the bank expires," Graham said, "to show that there's strong support in the Senate for the bank."
The trade bill's progress came after an intense lobbying campaign by the White House.
"The president called me after 11" last night, said Sen. Ron Wyden. "The president is all in on this issue. There is no other way to describe it."
This article has been updated.
Sarah Mimms and Dylan Scott contributed to this article
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
Alex Rogers covers Congress as a staff correspondent for National Journal. He previously worked as a political reporter at TIME. He is a native of Bethesda, Maryland and a graduate of Vanderbilt University.