It's been a week since Speaker John A. Boehner warned the stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal backed by President Barack Obama needed help from the White House. On Thursday there were indications the president is stepping up his efforts.
Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi each used much of their weekly news conferences Thursday to temper expectations for the prospects of the trade deal. But a group of about 30 Democrats who met later in the day with Obama were more optimistic.
"I've known the president since he was a state senator," said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., who hails from Obama's hometown of Chicago. "I've never seen him this strong, this emphatic. He was on fire today. At the top of his game."
Obama urged Quigley and other members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition to join Republicans in supporting the Trade Promotion Authority bill that would allow the White House to "fast-track" a TPP deal. The deal is backed by the president, most Republicans and some Democrats, but has increasingly come under fire from organized labor and other core Democratic constituencies.
"I think the most important thing was, he was making it very clear: This is as high a priority as our country has for an issue," Quigley went on. "He wants to complete as high a priority as he has for his administration."
"I will say I do think virtually everyone left ... much more impressed with the arguments for a 'yes' vote," said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., a New Democrat Coalition vice-chairman. "[Obama] deserves a lot of credit for that."
Lawmakers said Obama addressed outstanding concerns about whether the current TPA framework would have an adverse effect on U.S. jobs or would make other nations complicit in unfair or unequal labor, environmental and human rights standards.
Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., said it was a "learning experience" for newer members for whom this will be their very first trade vote, and perhaps the most difficult vote of their careers.
Quigley said many lawmakers who were in Congress prior to 2010 compared the upcoming TPA vote to weighing the pros and cons of supporting the Affordable Care Act.
Some members remain undecided, despite the president's lobbying.
"I quite frankly don't understand how members at this point can make up their mind on an agreement that doesn't exist yet," said the group's chairman, Ron Kind of Wisconsin. "This is still being negotiated and we ought to at least wait and see what the final terms are and then pass judgment at that time."
Thursday's meeting was an indication the White House is feeling the pressure as the legislative window for passing TPA shrinks.
House lawmakers leave for a one-week recess Friday, but the Senate -- the chamber expected to move TPA first -- will be in session. That doesn't mean the Senate will definitely move to the trade legislation, of course. There's still no firm timeline -- or deadline. But with the House scheduled to enjoy another weeklong recess at the end of May, time is becoming a factor.
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