After a series of dueling objections, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved Tuesday evening to limit debate on the Trade Promotion Authority bill that's a top priority for himself and President Barack Obama, but the endgame was far from clear.
By moving to invoke cloture, the Kentucky Republican has set a key vote on the package that combines "fast-track" trade authority and Trade Adjustment Assistance for Thursday morning, but what happens then is far from certain. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had cautioned against truncating the debate without considering lots of amendments, though the two parties were sparring throughout the afternoon about the process.
Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., appeared on the floor just before McConnell made his move to call for a Senate vote on reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank as part of any agreement on trade legislation.
"The one thing we're not going to do is let the bank die without a debate and a vote, and that debate and vote must come before June 30 because the damage will have been done. I'm not going to sit on the sidelines and watch jobs in my state be lost because of some ideological crusade, the biggest beneficiary of which, in my view, would be China and our European competitors," Graham said. "I'll look forward to a positive outcome so you can get your bill passed, and you can have votes on amendments that you care about, and you can get your bill up and passed if the votes are there, as long as I get a chance along with the senator from Washington to vote on what I care about."
Cantwell is one of the Democrats generally viewed as supportive of the trade agenda, and both of the senators were among the 65 voting in favor of limiting debate on proceeding to the trade package last week.
"While I will be filing cloture on the bill this evening, that’s not the end of the story: The bill managers will continue working together to get more amendments available for a vote before the cloture vote," McConnell said Tuesday.
Earlier Tuesday, McConnell told reporters that while he's opposed to keeping the Export-Import Bank running, he planned to schedule floor debate and a vote, which is something he has said previously.
One issue did appear on track for resolution as of later in the day Tuesday, however. Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon worked to craft language to provide a process for narrow exceptions to the language in the trade bill authored by Menendez regarding human trafficking.
"I want to thank Sen. Wyden for helping to develop compromise language that has preserved the full intent of the amendment," Menendez said on the floor. "And I want to thank all of the human rights and trafficking groups who have come forward, worked hard, helped draw attention to the problem, and provided a new public mechanism to hold this administration – or any Administration – accountable for their efforts to end human trafficking around the world – and not reward the very worst human traffickers with access to our markets."
The Obama administration is supporting the Menendez-Wyden revisions, though merely introducing the amendment is no guarantee of success. An administration official said that the president would continue to consult with lawmakers "to ensure that the final bill is consistent with the President's commitment to only sign trade agreements that put in place historic new protections for human rights, environmental, and labor standards and level the playing field for our workers."
"We welcome the amendment introduced by Senators Menendez and Wyden on trafficking. This amendment will further encourage countries to take concrete actions to address human trafficking," the official said. "Today's introduction is an important first step, but there is more work ahead to ensure that the Senate votes on this important tool to address one of the great human rights causes of our time."
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