WASHINGTON – President Obama on Friday ramped up his campaign to persuade Congress to pass his struggling trade deal with Asia, a pact that remains opposed by both presidential candidates and many rank-and-file lawmakers in each party.
Obama invited a bipartisan group of politicians and business leaders to the White House for an Oval Office meeting on the deal, which congressional leaders say is unlikely to get a vote this year. Participants included Republicans John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, as well as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“They know that this is important for our economy and this is important for our national security,” Obama said at the meeting. “If we are not in there making sure that fair trade is established in the Asian market, we’re going to be cut out.”
Obama hopes the meeting’s participants, also including Ginni Rometty, the chairwoman and CEO of IBM, and John Bel Edwards, the governor of Louisiana, can raise pressure on Democrats and Republicans in Congress to ratify the sweeping 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership after the November elections. Before the meeting, the White House circulated an op-ed titled “Help American Workers. Pass TPP,” by Bloomberg and U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue.
“It’s imperative that the strong majority of voters who support expanded trade urge members of Congress to pass TPP this year — and hold them accountable for the lost jobs that will result if they fail to do so,” they wrote in Bloomberg View.
The trade deal, which would cover about 40 percent of global commerce, is on life support. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has vowed to scrap it altogether if he’s elected, and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — pushed to the left on the accord during her primary campaign — has said she would at least seek to renegotiate it.
The Republican leaders of the House and Senate have said the deal doesn’t have enough support to pass Congress and thus won’t be called up for a vote this year.
“As long as we don’t have the votes, I see no point of bringing up an agreement only to defeat it,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio last month. “I have my own problems with TPP. It is not ready. The president has to renegotiate some critical components of it.”
Asian nations that are party to the trade agreement have warned that it cannot be renegotiated. Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, said in Washington last month that U.S. credibility was on the line over the pact. Obama acknowledged their concerns in Laos last week and said the politics of the deal were “difficult” for U.S. lawmakers.
“Failure to move ahead with TPP would not just have economic consequences, but would call into question America’s leadership in the region,” he said during the trip.
Skepticism that the deal will be enacted has built to such a pitch that passage before Obama leaves the presidency would be a major surprise.
“The sand has run through the hour glass pretty fast,” Ryan said in the public radio interview. “I don’t see how they’ll ever get the votes for it.”