Nancy Pelosi's Concession Signals End to Trade Fight

Democrats are focused on salvaging one liberal priority, an admission that they won't be able to stop fast-track for Obama.

National Journal

In a concession that Democrats no longer have a chance to stop President Obama's trade agenda, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told her caucus Wednesday morning that she will back Trade Adjustment Assistance, a workers' aid bill that had been blocked by Democrats to hold up the package.

"While we may not all vote in the same manner on TAA, I will support its passage because it can open the door to a full debate on [the Trans-Pacific Partnership]," she said in a letter to House Democrats.

Pelosi's announcement comes less than two weeks after she helped derail a larger trade package by opposing that bill, and a day after the Senate passed another piece of that package to which many Democrats have strong objections.

House Democrats voted overwhelmingly this month to block TAA because it was linked to Trade Promotion Authority — also known as fast-track — which most in the caucus oppose. In response, GOP leaders separated the bills and asked pro-trade Democrats to trust them that TAA would quickly get a vote once TPA moved through Congress (TAA has traditionally passed with mostly Democratic votes, and most members who opposed it the first time did so as a tactic to block TPA).

Pelosi's statement is a concession that Republicans' strategy worked. With TPA passing the House and its Senate passage imminent, its opponents' only hope was that Obama would keep his pledge not to sign it without TAA. But already the White House has signaled he will give it swift approval, knowing that doing so removes any reason for Democrats to continue opposing TAA.

After several days of evading questions on TAA, it appears that Democratic leaders realize the bill no longer gives them leverage. "In terms of the TAA, this has been a Democratic issue all along," Caucus Vice Chair Joe Crowley told reporters Wednesday morning. "I intend Thursday if the vote comes up to support the TAA. "¦ The situation has changed. TPA will be signed. What we have to do is stand up for the American workers here who will be displaced."

Crowley also noted Republicans mostly oppose TAA, so if Democrats vote it down this time, they likely won't get another chance to save the program. "They've been decoupled, and we may not have another opportunity to do that, so I will support the TAA," he said.

Other Democrats had been reticent to make that concession. Caucus Chair Xavier Becerra, speaking just before Crowley, noted that leadership had not yet weighed in on the bill (Pelosi released her statement soon after), and blamed Republicans for a less-than-transparent process. "There's a great deal of concern about what exactly we're going to get," he said, declining to clarify his position on the bill.

And Tuesday, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer made a running joke about how many times reporters would try to get him to reveal his position on TAA. After five or six attempts, he would only allow that this vote was a "different context" than the combined TPA/TAA vote, while still reserving judgment until he could see the bill. Hoyer supported TAA during the vote this month, while voting against TPA.