Following last week's failed vote on Trade Adjustment Assistance, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was more than happy Monday to point his finger at the other side of the aisle and say, "Look at the dysfunction inside the Democratic Party!"
"It's almost like a civil war in the Democratic Caucus," McCarthy said during a pen-and-pad briefing with reporters. Specifically, McCarthy was referring to House Democrats voting down the TAA program, which they favor, in an effort to stymie President Barack Obama's trade deal with Pacific countries. On June 12, Democrats overwhelmingly voted down TAA, which they were expected to carry, so that Trade Promotion Authority, which would "fast-track" a long-awaited Pacific trade deal, could not make its way to the president's desk.
Democrats simply blocked Obama from securing a pathway to finalize the trade deal. And while Republicans by-and-large support Obama finishing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, they aren't exactly against the #DemsInDisarray narrative.
Just hours after Obama left a closed-door meeting with Democrats and just minutes before the House was to vote on the trade authority legislation, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made a rambling, seemingly off-the-cuff speech where, after 13 minutes, she finally revealed that she would be voting against TAA to block the overall fast-track authority — a position at odds with Obama but in accordance with the majority of the House Democratic Caucus.
Of course, the matter is not over. Pelosi signaled during the speech she might be open to the trade bill if Democrats could also get a highway bill to go along with it. That legislation is due for reauthorization at the end of July, but Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate have had trouble reaching any sort of agreement on even a short-term patch.
McCarthy painted the new highway bill theory as grasping at straws. The California Republican noted that, first, Pelosi raised an issue with the offset in the trade legislation. And Republicans changed the offset. Then Pelosi came to Republicans with a change on the sequence of votes. And Republicans changed the sequence. "So it seems like each day is a new thing," McCarthy said Monday.
Either way, McCarthy said he wasn't content to just give up on TPA, and he said GOP leaders were waiting to see what Democrats had come up with over the weekend. The current hope is that Obama convinced dozens more than 70 Democrats to change their minds on the TAA vote — which seems like a long shot.
Currently, the House has to pass TAA by the end of Tuesday's legislative day, or else the TPA vote, which passed, will be null and void. Of Course, Republicans could always change the rules — something McCarthy seemed open to — but GOP leaders are hoping that Democrats will just have changed their minds.
McCarthy said Democrats might realize they "overplayed" their hand, and that TAA "might not be there anymore."
But if Democrats don't cooperate with a TAA re-vote, McCarthy said there were different legislative paths Republicans could pass.
"We have made no decisions yet, but there are options," he said, noting that he wouldn't explicitly lay out those options because, "I don't want to get ahead of everything."
McCarthy didn't seem open to adding sweeteners for Democrats — McCarthy said his parents taught him at an early age that you don't reward bad behavior — but one option seems to be sending the TPA vote sans TAA back to the Senate and working out some other way to pass TAA once the Senate approves TPA.
That could be tricky, with Senate Democrats demanding that Republicans work out appropriations numbers now, and with Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin signaling that Democrats will only accept a long-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund.
Meaning there are plenty of issues for Congress to work out, and plenty of them are contained within the Democratic Party. "In a short historical time, I haven't seen a party do this to their president," McCarthy said.
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