Updated: 2:23 p.m. | Four days after House Democrats sank the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill necessary to advance Trade Promotion Authority legislation, lawmakers on both sides of the trade debate have different takes on what happened — and what comes next.
The original plan was to reconsider on the House floor Tuesday the previously failed vote on TAA, which would provide training programs for U.S. workers displaced by global trade agreements. But GOP leaders opted instead to extend the deadline for holding that vote until the end of July, a chance to buy more time to figure out how to advance the bill that would give President Barack Obama authority to negotiate a 12-nation Pacific trade agreement. Before noon Tuesday, House Democrats were weighing in from all directions on what the delay meant for their various agendas.
Emerging from an early-morning meeting between U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, top administration adviser Jeffrey Zeints and some of the 28 House Democrats who voted for TPA, New Democrat Coalition Chairman Ron Kind said he was relieved for the expected delay in consideration of TAA.
"I think it's necessary right now," said the Wisconsin Democrat, who has been working closely with the White House on whipping for TPA. "I don't think you're going to get many votes switching because the dynamics haven't changed at all on the ground."
Kind said there was a commitment from the administration officials inside the closed-door meeting to keep working to save TAA, which members voted down as a strategy to sink TPA.
"It just doesn't make sense that we as a party are taking our own child hostage and holding a gun to its head," he said of the program that has typically enjoyed overwhelming Democratic support.
An hour later, House Democratic Caucus Chairman and Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra of California and Joseph Crowley of New York, respectively, were speaking to reporters at a news conference with a different narrative: Republicans were the ones to blame not only for the failed TAA vote but the inability to come up with the votes to pass the bill on Tuesday, too.
Becerra and Crowley, who sit on the Ways and Means Committee which had jurisdiction over the package of trade bills, said Democrats were shut out from the negotiating table.
"If you want to see who brought down the Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation last week, talk to the 158 Republicans who voted against their own party's Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation," Becerra said. "That 144 of us voted against it should not be a surprise since from the very beginning we informed our Republican colleagues that the Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation was woefully inadequate. It left out workers who might be impacted by trade,who might lose their jobs. It didn't have enough funds to deal with the largest trade agreement that might be shaped ... it included cuts to Medicare which more than 50 million Americans rely on for their services."
"When the bill came from the Senate, where Republicans and Democrats and Paul Ryan worked on the legislation, it came to the House without the input of the Democratic minority," Crowley added. "One would think that the Trade Adjustment Assistance that was being added to entice Democrats to vote for it, they would at least allow Democrats to participate in what was actually in the TAA ... So let's make no mistake about this: There was no Democratic input either in the TAA or the TPA bill that came before the House."
At a news conference with House Democratic opponents of the trade package, lawmakers criticized the White House, too, for not bringing them into the fold.
"We want to be a partner with this administration on how these [trade] issues are resolved," said Ways and Means ranking Democrat Sander M. Levin of Michigan. "That's basically what has to change."
And at a pen-and-pad briefing with reporters later in the morning, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said he never expected Obama and pro-trade Democrats to succeed in switching 144 Democratic "no" votes on TAA to "yes" positions in such a short window.
"I never thought that was gonna work," he said.
As one of the 40 Democrats who voted for TAA, Hoyer said he wasn't surprised that the majority of his colleagues opted not to support the bill and didn't fault them for using their opposition as a "tactical" ploy.
"It was an honest thing to do," he said, despite Obama warning Democrats not go that route. "You may not have liked it, but it was a tactic — and I didn't support it, and I voted for the TAA — but I don't think there was anything nefarious about it or unfair about it."
Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this article.