The fate of President Obama's fast-track trade bill remained uncertain Thursday afternoon even after clearing a key hurdle, as Democrats expressed growing concern with the slice of the package that helps train workers who lose their jobs as a result of a future trade deal.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance bill—a key provision for Democrats—is vital to passing Trade Promotion Authority, legislation that gives Congress and up-or-down vote on trade deals negotiated by the president over the next six years.
On a 217-212 vote, the House just barely approved a rule for debate that ties the passage of TAA to TPA in hopes of bringing more Democrats along. A handful of Democrats joined most Republicans in backing the rule, a relatively rare occurrence on what is usually a party-line vote. But the Democrats were needed because many conservative Republicans opposed the rule, feeling that they have been shut out of the process.
The final passage votes for trade legislation will now happen Friday. If TAA does not pass, TPA cannot come up for a vote, putting the president's trade bill into jeopardy and disrupting what was supposed to be a rare bipartisan moment on Capitol Hill. Many of the lawmakers who most support TAA—under normal circumstances—are opposed to the fast-track bill, and vice versa, making the combined package a complicated sell.