Congress didn't expect to vote on TPP the first few months of the year, as the agreement has to be public for 60 days before Obama can sign it and then send to Congress for a review period that would last at the very least another month. By that point next year, the country will be in the full throes of the presidential race and scores of congressional campaigns.
While the Obama administration succeeded in getting greater negotiating power—known as fast-track or trade-promotion authority—over the summer, the task ahead of actually ratifying the pact may prove more difficult. Several of the senior Senate Republicans tasked with pushing TPP—the biggest regional accord in history—over the finish line are skeptical of it.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, who wanted the pharmaceutical industry to receive stronger intellectual-property rights under TPP, said he was “immensely concerned” it wasn’t the best final product possible in a Hill newspaper op-ed Wednesday. In an interview, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, said his enthusiasm for the agreement had “waned” since helping pass the key TPA trade bill this summer. Cornyn then admonished the White House for not lifting the export ban on crude oil after it lifted Iranian energy sanctions as part of the landmark nuclear deal struck earlier this year.
He added, it’s “a real question” if the TPP vote will happen in an election year and noted that the Democrats, who are usually against such pacts anyway, could flee en masse under the cover granted by their top presidential candidates.
“I mean all the Democratic candidates oppose it,” said Cornyn. “We had to work hard to get the 13 Democrats to vote for TPA. Some of them may be a little skittish, especially in light of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’s opposition.”
Of course, there is the possibility that some members might actually turn around in favor of the agreement, even after voting against TPA, whether because they favor free trade but don’t like Obama or because they don’t like giving up congressional power but like the agreement. “I don’t like fast-track,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip. “I voted against it. And [at] times, I’ve voted for the treaty. So I’ll look at it on its merits.”
But Democrats will be hard-pressed to approve an agreement that major environmental and union groups like the Sierra Club and AFL-CIO want dead. “From what we have already seen, it is clear that the threats of this expansive new agreement outweigh its benefits—for good jobs, for democracy, for affordable medicines, for consumer safety, and for the environment,” wrote the umbrella union group. “The hardworking families of the AFL-CIO will join with our allies to defeat the TPP.”
And even some GOP congressmen, members of a traditionally pro-trade party, have already announced their opposition to the deal. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama told National Journal Wednesday that the historical precedent of trade deals are an eroded U.S. manufacturing sector, reduced wages overall, and an increased trade deficit. While supportive of TPA, North Carolina Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis have said that they will work to tank the agreement over a provision that benefits public-health advocates over their cash crop, tobacco.