The bill would have sent to the president a package that included a Democratic sweetener, a TAA bill to help those who lose their jobs as a result of expanded trade. But it failed resoundingly—126 to 302—as the vast majority of anti-trade Democrats knew that the House could then send to the president the key fast-track authority, which would grant the administration greater leverage in trade negotiations by limiting congressional debate to an up-or-down vote without amendments. The bills would have helped the administration strike the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation pact, in the months ahead.
The vote split the House Democratic leadership, exposing the fault lines between moderates who believe free trade benefits the economy and progressives with major environmental and labor concerns, among others. Some Democrats, including New York Rep. Steve Israel, saw the vote as another example in which Pelosi "sealed the deal" for undecided members; she ended her months-long neutrality just before the vote in a 15-minute floor speech announcing her opposition.
"I think the leader is the leader," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, one of the trade package's most vociferous opponents. "She's always influential."
But others said she wasn't the arm-twister of years past and instead merely was the keen observer of an increasingly progressive caucus. Her allies in leadership, including Reps. Xavier Becerra and Chris Van Hollen, said they found out she was going to vote "no" with them during her floor speech. And the leadership didn't whip votes one way or another.
Indeed, some Republicans and administration officials were hopeful that she would actually vote "yes" on TAA, as she helped strike the deal with the GOP leadership to structure the votes and find how the bills would be paid for. In the past few months, she had helped the administration set up meetings between Democratic members and Cabinet officials pressing hard for TPA. Even in her floor speech, she referenced how she grew up in Baltimore—home of the "famous Clipper ships"—and represented San Francisco, a city "built on trade."
Yet Pelosi's concerns on transparency, labor rights, and the environment outweighed any perceived benefits and she helped deal a stinging, final rebuke to the president with her ballot. How many others she brought along with her is an open question—though it appears unlikely that she truly tipped the scales.
"I think when you come out that late, it doesn't make much of a difference," said Rep. John Delaney, one of the few Democratic members to advance the trade package this week. "By then, people had formulated their options."
"I viewed it as her bill," he added. "She made it a much better deal."
Republicans took the opportunity to underline the differences between the administration and their Democratic allies in Congress. Rep. Patrick McHenry, the deputy Republican whip, said it was "disconcerting" that Pelosi would "poke the finger in the president's eye."