Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are cautiously moving forward with plans to hold a vote Friday to grant “fast-track” trade promotion authority to President Barack Obama.
The issue has most Republicans lined up with a president they usually oppose.
On the other side of the issue is a broad coalition of tea party Republicans skeptical of giving the president too much power, progressive Democrats, labor unions and other groups. This unlikely group is fighting as hard as it can to stop a vote from happening or to defeat it on the House floor.
House Republicans met Wednesday behind closed doors inside the U.S. Capitol and decided to move forward on legislation this week, knowing that the vote is likely to be extremely close and hard fought.
Speaker John Boehner of Ohio told reporters: “Trade votes are never an easy lift around here, but Republicans are continuing to work, and we are seeing some positive momentum in the right direction.”
Opponents sound off
At the same time outside the Capitol, labor union leaders, environmentalists, retirees, feminists and some Democratic lawmakers held a news conference, vowing to stop the trade legislation.
Democratic Representative Barbara Lee of California acknowledged that Democrats have come under pressure from the president to support the bill, but she said pressure is not what matters to her or to others who are taking a stand.
“This deal is bad for American workers, it is bad for American jobs, so we need to go back to the drawing board,” Lee said.
The White House has said it will “have the back” of any Democratic lawmakers who may face a primary election challenge from within their own ranks if they vote for trade promotion authority. Off the record, several Democratic House members told VOA that they come under relentless pressure from unions and other activists when they return to their home districts.
Roy Houseman, a legislative representative for the United Steelworkers, told VOA the steel industry has already lost 5,000 jobs, partly because of previous trade agreements, and that thousands of American jobs are at stake. He said unions would continue to push hard against granting fast-track trade authority, and that it is far from certain there will be a vote this week.
Other votes derailed
He said Republicans had "oftentimes pulled votes in the past" because they lacked sufficient support for a bill's passage.
"As we are coming to an end game, we feel strongly that it is in the members of Congress' best interest to vote for their constituents, and that would be opposing fast track,” he said.
The trade bill needs 217 votes to pass, and so far, only 18 Democrats have pledged to support it, forcing Republicans to try to limit the number of “no” votes on their side. Negotiations on details are still ongoing, and some Democrats say they are holding out for the best possible conditions they can get.
Obama is seeking fast-track authority to negotiate the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which is also an issue lawmakers passionately disagree on.