Biden met behind closed doors with House of Representatives
Democrats as they wrapped up a three-day retreat in Cambridge,
Maryland, saying he understands the political reality of their
misgivings on free trade, according to a senior House Democratic
aide who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Obama has asked Congress to approve fast-track negotiation authority
that would enable his administration to speed up talks on two big
free-trade pacts that would cover about two-thirds of the world's
international trade: a pan-Pacific trading bloc and a U.S. agreement
with the European Union.
Supporters of fast-track authority say trade partners will not put
their best offers on the table unless they know the final agreement
can be submitted to Congress for an up-or-down vote, without
Some Democrats fear the fast-track authority could lead to trade
deals that could hurt local jobs and industry and could cost them
support in November's congressional elections.
Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi, the
senior House Democrat, both have spoken out against the fast-track
proposal before Congress.
"While the vice president said he understands where some members of
the House and Senate are coming from, he made a clear case for the
administration's trade priorities, including the Trans-Pacific
Partnership (TPP) negotiations, which he stated are very much in the
economic and strategic interest of the U.S.," Biden's office said in
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of
anonymity, said, "It is still very much our goal to complete a TPP
agreement this year."
"I would not in any way suggest that we're walking back from our
commitment to TPP. We very much want to get that done, we've
communicated that to Congress," the official said.
"There's a question as to how we work with Congress going forward,
to sequence our pursuit of (fast track) and the TPP agreement," the
After the New York Times reported that the vice president
acknowledged that Congress will not grant fast-track trade
authority, Biden's office said that press accounts of his comments
on trade were inaccurate.
The Democratic aide said that "nothing Biden said could be construed
as meaning that (fast track) is dead." Paraphrasing the comments,
the aide said Biden told the Democratic lawmakers that he gets the
"political reality" of concerns about the Pacific trade pact but
that "we're still fighting for it."
After the session with Biden, lawmakers met with Obama where the
focus was on the botched rollout of the president's signature
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Fast-track authority is seen as a litmus test of political support
for free-trade deals, which have been opposed by some of Obama's
power bases — unions, environmentalists and consumer groups
concerned about lost jobs and weaker labor and pollution
Pelosi on Wednesday told a union rally she opposed the fast-track
legislation now before Congress.
Pelosi, who voted against the most recent fast-track bill before the
House but has supported some free-trade deals in the past, said she
was not rejecting Obama's trade agenda but opposed the fast-track
bill's current form.
Her opposition followed a warning on January 29 by Reid, the Senate
majority leader, not to push the fast-track measure.
In his State of the Union address on January 28, Obama asked
Congress for fast-track authority. But Reid said the next day he was
"against fast track" and urged a slow approach to trade talks,
adding, "I think that everyone would be well advised just to not
push this right now."
After Reid announced his opposition, top House Republicans called on
Obama to "get his own party in line" behind the fast-track trade
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday questioned
Obama's seriousness on free trade.
"With our economy in such dire straits these days, opening new
opportunities for American goods through trade should just be a
no-brainer. It's an issue that used to be fairly bipartisan around
here, and it can be again — if the president is willing to lead,"
McConnell said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland;
writing by Will Dunham;
editing by Caren Bohan and Lisa Shumaker)
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