In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Barack Obama likely will reiterate his call for Congress to pave the way for new trade negotiations — but House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer is still demurring on how far he'll go to help the administration achieve that goal.
The Maryland Democrat said Tuesday at his weekly pen-and-pad briefing with reporters that he was, and would continue, discussing the matter with the White House, Trade Representative Michael Froman and fellow members of House Democratic leadership. "I think we're going to continue having more discussions about it within our caucus," Hoyer said.
He said he and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., would continue to press administration officials for transparency in the process and assurances that negotiations to secure the sought-after Trans-Pacific Partnership would not undermine labor, environmental and human rights practices in the partnering nations or cost Americans jobs at home.
Members unsettled by that uncertainty, paired with those who are unequivocally opposed to giving Obama so-called "fast-track authority" to enter into trade deals no matter what, could leave the president high and dry on one of his biggest priorities — one that could actually unite members on both sides of the aisle, and in both chambers. If Hoyer, who has historically supported trade deals in his many years in Congress, backs the White House on this matter, he could help influence other Democrats.
But asked explicitly whether he would proactively help the administration win the votes when the time came, Hoyer deflected, saying simply that he believed that Obama's trade agenda stood a strong shot of winning congressional approval despite controversy.
Hoyer also downplayed the extent to which the issue was dividing the caucus at a time when House Democrats are struggling with how to define themselves in the next election cycle and disagreeing on what issues they should fight for to send the strongest message to voters.
"Division within our party's nothing new on this issue," Hoyer said, "so yes, it exists.
"I think the Republicans are divided on this as well," he added.
The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.