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Trade Votes Signal GOP Evolution

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (right) has been eager to highlight GOP unity on the trade votes.

“Times have changed dramatically since then,” the Kentucky Republican said. “I think it’s globalization and the loss of jobs overseas and declining exports and a huge increase in imports.”

Rep. Jack Kingston, who voted against NAFTA, said his views evolved as the global economy changed.

“I think at the time, there was a lot of concern that I don’t think was unfounded about American jobs and competing because of lower labor standards, lower salaries for foreign workers. That is still a concern, but you just look at what has happened between now and then and it has been a real change,” said the Georgia Republican, who voted for all three agreements Wednesday. “You look at cars: In my political lifetime, you would never drive anything other than what was made in Detroit. Now it doesn’t matter. BMW sells more cars in America than they sell in Germany.”

“Germany buys parts from Malaysia, who buys parts from Israel. And if we don’t want to be a part of that, we’re going to fall behind,” he continued.

Other countries’ striking bilateral and multilateral deals have spurred the party to change, said House Rules Chairman David Dreier, a longtime proponent of trade who voted for NAFTA.

“In the last five years, we’ve seen Canada, the European Union and other countries engage in bilateral agreements with these partners with whom we have negotiated,” the California Republican said.

Some holdouts remain. Six voted against every deal: LaTourette and Smith joined Reps. Rob Bishop (Utah), Walter Jones Jr. (N.C.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.) and David McKinley (W.Va.) as the only GOP votes against the Panama deal. Those Republicans and three more voted against the Colombia deal.

“There’s some exporting going on, and those people are doing OK,” LaTourette said, explaining his votes. “But most of the people pushing the trade deals are the multinationals, and the multinationals have not really been that great for the workforce in Ohio.”

The South Korea deal faced the most Republican opposition, showing that some regional interests still hold; all but one GOP House Member from the Carolinas voted against the deal because they fear transshipments from China could threaten the states’ textiles industry.

“When I was first elected, my bread-and-butter issues were tobacco, furniture and textiles. Well, all three are beleaguered now,” Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) said, though he voted for NAFTA. “I had to vote ‘no’ because my textile folks were opposed to it. My mama was a textile worker. So when I talk about textile legislation, I’m thinking about my mama. And the textile people have been mighty good to me.”

Even in the Carolinas, though, things are changing, McCarthy said.

“You go to South Carolina, look at Boeing building its planes,” he said. “Where’s Boeing sending its planes? Here, but mainly around the world.”

That argument may have persuaded Rep. Tim Scott (S.C.) to buck his delegation as the only Carolina Republican to vote for the South Korea agreement.

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