The debate surrounding congressional approval of “fast track” trade authority has officially taken a swan dive through the looking glass.

Obama wants it. House republicans want it. Democrats, for the most part, are ready to vote “no”—their union backers are making them more nervous than the White House ever could—even if it prevents their president from advancing more legacy-building legislation.

More from the AP (emphasis mine):

Obama himself, who’s been unusually personally engaged on a bill that could amount to the biggest achievement of his second term, paid a surprise visit to the annual congressional baseball game Thursday night for some 11th hour persuading. Obama arrived as Democratic and Republican lawmakers faced off at Nationals Park and was greeted with chants of “TPA! TPA!” from the GOP side — the acronym for the Trade Promotion Authority fast track bill. He brought beer and visited with lawmakers on both sides.

Earlier, in a closed meeting in the Capitol, top White House officials implored Democrats not to deny Obama the trade authority. Such a vote, they said, would block needed trade expansion for the nation and sink a major priority of the Democratic president.

It really happened—I was there to see it:

obama flake annotated

obama rand annotated

(Aside: the congressional baseball game was the most supremely Beltway event I have ever attended—and I had a blast. Kevin Brady came thisclose to hitting it out of the park, Linda Sanchez wore number “IX” and ripped a line drive into right field, and Nancy Pelosi marked the occasion with a beige pantsuit*. #ThisTown in action.)

Friday’s House votes on TPA are expected to be close, due to both collegial tensions, and pressure and rhetoric lobbed from special interest groups on both sides of the issue. (I wrote about some of the more unfortunate messaging “mistakes” here.)

More from Reason:

In other TPP politics news, some are concerned that foreigners are paying former politicians to lobby for the pact. And National Journal reports on some contretemps among conservative movement types as the Heritage Foundation’s campaigning arm, Heritage Action, advises against a pro-TPA vote that House Speaker Boehner and most Republicans want, in an attempt to get Boehner to act on a separate matter, letting the Export-Import Bank die:

[Rep. Paul] Ryan [R-Wis.] and Republican leadership had been working in close communication with outside groups like Heritage to try and ensure they—at the very least—stayed neutral on the bill. When Heritage Action made its announcement, one Republican leadership aide said there was palpable frustration.

“It is total fiction. No one in this chamber is talking about Ex-Im and trade in the same breath,” the aide said. “They have concocted a false pretense to oppose a bill.”

Meanwhile, TPA backers are out in force with explanations bolstering the bill’s legitimacy outside the political sphere. Kenny Marchant (TX-24) writes:

Absent TPA, the President has the constitutional power to negotiate trade agreements without Congressional input, transparency requirements or a mechanism to make agreements available for public review. But other countries will not engage in serious negotiations – or offer real concessions – until they know the U.S. is negotiating in good faith.

That is why TPA is essential. It puts Congress – not the administration – in charge of trade negotiation objectives. It sets clear transparency requirements and makes agreements available for public review. And it shows our trading partners that America can be trusted.

If the administration meets the TPA requirements, Congress gets the final say on any trade agreement through a yea-or-nay vote. If the administration fails, Congress has the power to cancel the vote and halt the agreement altogether. TPA ensures transparency and accountability.

We’ll keep you updated on the vote.

*In case you were wondering, John Boehner wore a button down and boat shoes—as he often does:

boehner baseball game


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