House Democrats were mostly happy to get some personal attention from President Obama on Friday, as he personally pleaded with them to support his trade agenda. But with many in his party still opposed to moving forward, Democrats bent over backward to proclaim their loyalty to the president—with one giant caveat: They won't back him on trade.
"I think it's obvious that most Democrats disagree with fast-track," Rep. Brad Sherman said. "That does not mean that we disagree with the dedication and the record of this president. We are very proud of this president; we have had his back again and again."
During Friday morning's closed-door session in the Capitol, Obama reminded Democrats what the White House has accomplished during his term—and reporters outside the room could hear several rounds of applause in response.
"It was along the lines of restating what he has done, working together with the Democratic caucus on labor, on the environment, and all the issues and things that we can be very, very proud of," said Rep. Mike Quigley, who recently traveled to Germany with three other pro-trade House Democrats aboard Air Force One with the president.
There's no mistaking the problem for Democrats here. Obama has put much on the line with his push for fast-track, and a loss in the House would be an embarrassing defeat for such a key White House agenda item. That said, the White House has pulled rabbits out of the hat before, dating back to passing the Affordable Care Act and even last month on trade, when fast-track lost an initial test vote in the Senate only to make it through two weeks later.
"We share the same values and share the same goals, said Rep. Dan Kildee, who chatted with Obama while managing the Democrats to victory at Thursday's baseball game. "I just firmly disagree that this is the process to achieve [it]. ... What he laid out is a very ambitious and correct set of steps that we need to engage in order to create an economy that works for everyone. But the notion that I have to accept what is written ... to me is just not correct."
Rep. Gene Green of Texas noted he has voted against free trade under previous presidents because of his Houston-area district—he said he lost six plants under NAFTA. But he loves Obama, too: "I like the president, I work hard for him, but I also represent a district that I think this is not good for," Green said.
"I think clearly everybody is supportive of the president. His policy? We'll find out how supportive they are shortly," Rep. Donald Norcross said.
Friday, Obama urged Democrats not to vote against the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill as a means to sink fast-track.
"I will be voting no because this is about TPA, and clearly they are linked together," Norcross said. "They are inseparable and we will make sure that we don't go back to the past of NAFTA where the jobs were flowing out of the country. Obviously, he is passionately involved in making sure that TAA, TPA gets passed. The White House clearly is working harder in the last couple of weeks than they have before."
The personal touch is something lawmakers from all stripes, but especially House Democrats, have complained that the White House has lacked over the years. This week, however, has been all hands on deck, as Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez have been virtually camping out on the Hill. And Obama visited Nationals Park for Thursday night's annual congressional baseball game.
"Obama was passionate & eloquent speaking to us for 30 mins," Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle tweeted Friday morning. "He clearly cares about workers. But he's just wrong about #TPA and #FastTrack."
Rep. Barbara Lee: "I don't think the president nor members are being disingenuous; it's just we have different points of view."
Not all Democrats were impressed by Obama's visit.
"There were a number of us who were insulted by the approach," Rep. Peter DeFazio said.
And Rep. Keith Ellison tweeted: "Now President Obama wants to talk?"
Ben Geman and Rachel Roubein contributed to this article