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Obama Gets Trade Win: Democrats Give In on TAA

Pelosi and Hoyer will vote for TAA when it comes back to the House floor Thursday (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

"It's over."  

That's how several House Democrats and senior aides described the current feeling in the caucus regarding their efforts to stop "fast-track" trade authority for the White House.  

Over the past two weeks, most members of the House Democratic Caucus have gone from opposing Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation — packaged with the related Trade Promotion Authority, a Republican and Obama administration priority — to acknowledging there's little point in voting "no." Some of TPA's most vocal critics, among them Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Ways and Means ranking member Sander M. Levin of Michigan, informed colleagues Wednesday morning during a closed-door meeting they would vote for a broad trade-preferences bill that includes TAA, despite concerns the legislation, a longtime Democratic favorite, doesn't do nearly enough to train workers displaced by global trade.  

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., and Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., also announced their support for TAA at that meeting. It's expected to hit the House floor Thursday, if all goes according to plan on the other side of the Capitol.  

Sources described the meeting as contentious, with members clamoring for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to articulate her position. They complained she was being purposefully vague on her stance while she waited for labor groups to put in writing their permission for lawmakers to vote "yes" on TAA.  

After the meeting, the California Democrat sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter making it clear she, too, would vote in favor.  

"I'm disappointed that the TAA bill isn't nearly as robust as it should be in light of a trade agreement that encompasses 40 percent of the global economy," Pelosi wrote. "While we may not all vote in the same manner on TAA, I will support its passage because it can open the door to a full debate on [the Trans-Pacific Partnership]."  

Pelosi voted against TAA during the first round of House votes to block TPA, which, if approved, will clear the way for President Barack Obama to negotiate a 12-nation Pacific trade pact.  

Many members said Pelosi's eleventh-hour opposition to the legislation two weeks ago stopped TAA in its tracks.  

Similarly, her support now could sway the pendulum in the other direction — though not all members are ready to come on board. Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California said the current iteration of TAA was still "essentially the same as it was before.  

"In my mind it's still woefully inadequate," he told reporters after the caucus meeting, though he stopped short of saying which way he would vote.  

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who have whipped consistently against TAA, plan to meet Wednesday evening to discuss how they'll vote.  

Ultimately, Democratic resolve on the issue weakened as the politics and the optics shifted over the past 14 days.  

By Wednesday night, the Senate is expected to have cleared TPA for the president's signature, closing the book on a fight that exposed deep philosophical and ideological fissures within the Democratic Party.  

The Senate is expected Wednesday to pass the trade preferences bill that includes TAA language plus an extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which facilitates economic partnerships between the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa.  

Eighteen Democrats last week signed onto a letter urging Senate leaders of both parties not to put TAA, which had become politically toxic, into legislation to reauthorize AGOA, fearing it would jeopardize passage of the latter.  

It became a particular concern for members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who didn't want to be isolated in voting on the preferences bill that contained the poison pill of TAA.  

Tensions were running high at the House Democrats' meeting early Wednesday, with Reps. Charles B. Rangel and Gregory Meeks, both CBC members, accusing Pelosi of suggesting white members got a pass to vote "no" on the preferences bill but black members had to support it.  

A House Democratic aide present at the Wednesday meeting disputed the characterization that Pelosi would not divulge her position on TAA. The aide also said there was a misunderstanding between Pelosi and the CBC members, and said at no point did the minority leader imply there could or should be a racial breakdown on votes for the bill.  

Simone Pathé and Nicole Puglise contributed to this report.  

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