The U.S. Senate voted on Tuesday to once again advance legislation facilitating the approval of two blockbuster trade pacts spanning the Atlantic and the Pacific.
The procedural 60-37 vote revives President Barack Obama’s trade agenda, which had been dealt a severe blow when Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which is often called "fast track," stalled on Capitol Hill earlier this month.
“This is a very big vote. It’s an important moment for the country,” Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “It’s demonstrating that both parties can work together to strengthen America’s national security at home, and America’s leadership abroad – instead of simply ceding the future in one of the world’s fastest-growing regions to Chinese aggression.”
Thirteen pro-trade Democrats joined with Republicans to support the bill, including Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, a western U.S. state where many of his business constituents support trade with Asia.
“Let’s pry open foreign markets and send more of our exports abroad,” Wyden said. "Let’s fight for the American brand against the trade cheats and the bad actors that are blocking our way."
Ahead of the vote, scores of trade opponents protested outside Senate office buildings and pressed lawmakers to vote ’no'. One demonstrator. Margaret Flowers, said Tuesday’s vote was disappointing but not a surprise.
“It is really important in our minds that they [lawmakers] not just pass this vote quietly,” Flowers said. "That they know and see that there are people that are opposed to what they are doing. We can’t be silent.”
Inside the chamber, Democrat Sherrod Brown called the legislation immoral and shameful.
“People are going to lose their jobs,” Brown said. "What a betrayal we are inflicting on those workers if we make this decision today.”
The push on trade puts the White House in conflict with labor unions, environmentalists, and other elements of the progressive coalition that helped elect President Obama and numerous Democratic lawmakers.
TPA mandates up-or-down congressional votes with no amendments allowed on two of the biggest trade deals in U.S. history: one with the European Union and another with Pacific Rim nations that, together, account for 40 percent of global economic output.