Undergirding the local-versus-national struggle over Bera is a test of organized labor's clout within the Democratic Party. The movement is opposing fast-track, saying previous trade deals have hurt domestic workers by sending jobs to ill-compensated laborers overseas. As such, they're livid with Bera over his fast-track support, especially after unions and their members spent money and time helping Bera keep his job in 2014.
At the end of last month, the AFL-CIO launched an ad buy just under $85,000 in his California district, where a narrator warns, "Congressman Ami Bera will do anything to keep his job, including sending your job overseas."
Steve Smith of the AFL-CIO's state affiliate, the California Labor Federation, said, "It would be next to impossible'' to curry support among members for Bera. And while he wouldn't rule out a Bera endorsement, Smith said it's possible the group could back a Republican, independent, or another Democrat if one emerged.
Local party leaders are already threatening to shift their resources elsewhere. Sacramento County Democratic Party Chair Kerri Asbury said it's ''very unlikely'' that Bera will receive the endorsement from the California Democratic Party, which passed a resolution opposing fast-track at its May convention. No other Democrat within California's delegation has backed fast-track.
"At the end of the day, we have to look at our positions, not the person," Asbury said. "If he's not aligning with our Democratic Party positions, then what's the point?"
For his part, Bera has said he's backing trade-promotion authority to promote jobs and grow the economy. "The new TPA demands enforceable labor standards, increased transparency, and environmental protections not seen in previous trade-authority bills," Bera told National Journal in a statement. He has noted that his support for fast-track won't necessarily extend to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade agreement that the United States has been negotiating.
Fast-track, formally known as Trade Promotion Authority, would make it easier for presidents to negotiate trade deals by limiting Congress's ability to amend such deals and—by barring senators from filibustering such deals—guaranteeing they'll get a simple majority-rules vote to advance. The Senate has voted to approve fast-track authority, and now the matter sits with the House. With fast-track in hand, Obama would be more likely to be able to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a still-in-talks trade deal among 12 countries (though notably not China) on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.
But while the local chorus of critics grows louder, national Democrats are riding to Bera's aid. Along with Obama's nod, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland last week said the Bera backlash was not "fair."
"Representative Bera's constituents sent him to Washington to fight for their best interests, something he does every day," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee communications director Matt Thornton said.