Updated 1:15 p.m. | President Barack Obama made a last-minute trip to Capitol Hill Friday morning to deliver one more plea to fellow Democrats to advance his trade agenda.
The House was in the middle of floor debate on Trade Adjustment Assistance and Trade Promotion Authority when Republican leaders agreed to recess to accommodate the "emergency Democratic Caucus" meeting with Obama.
The accommodation was a clear sign Republicans are willing to be flexible on Friday's schedule, as Democratic votes are necessary to pass TAA, an underlying worker training bill that will determine whether TPA passes.
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Obama, accompanied by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, went into a closed-door meeting shortly before 10 a.m. The president left 37 minutes later.
In the meeting, Obama told Democrats "to 'play it straight,'" Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., said. "I would put it another way: It's disingenuous to vote against TAA because you don't like trade."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who like Quigley supports Obama's trade agenda, said he thought Obama's appeal "helped."
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who also backs the full trade package, said Democrats who would support TAA if it wasn't part of a strategy to sink TPA might ultimately end up with nothing.
A moderate member with ties across the aisle, Cuellar said Republicans could just decide to go back to the Rules Committee to bring up TPA as a standalone bill. That measure has enough votes to pass at this point, supporters say.
"They don't care if TAA goes down," Cuellar said of Republicans.
The caucus meeting was still going on after Obama left.
Despite the rare face-to-face lobbying from the president — he also made an unexpected appearance at Thursday night’s 54th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game — Democrats are revolting in large numbers against TAA. Many weren't mollified by passage of a rule that would replace the Medicare cuts used to pay for TAA, but still require Senate action.
Pro-trade members of the caucus are trying hard to make the case that the offset has already been replaced by another component of the package of trade bills, passed Thursday — but that is being largely dismissed as a procedural gimmick that doesn't fix the problem.
Some Democrats opposed to the trade deal see sinking TAA as a way to prevent a vote on TPA, which would give Obama broad authority to negotiate a 12-nation Pacific trade deal.
It was unclear whether the last-minute lobbying would sway enough Democrats to save the trade votes, expected later in the day, but some lawmakers seemed skeptical of the White House blitz.
"Now President Obama wants to talk?" Keith Ellison, D-Minn., tweeted.
Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., the ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, characterized Obama's visit like this: He "tried to guilt us and then impugn our integrity."
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