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Trade Promotion Authority Clears Senate Hurdle

Coons voted "yes" to on the cloture vote on the TPA package. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama's Trade Promotion Authority package survived a near-death experience Thursday, with the Senate voting narrowly to cut off a filibuster in an extended vote.  

Eight holdouts all voted "yes" at the end after a deal was cut on the Export-Import Bank, after the vote stalled at 54-38 for a significant period of time. The final vote was 62-38, topping the 60 votes needed.  

Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Chris Coons of Delaware and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, plus Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, all voted "aye" to bring the package to the magic 60 vote threshold. They were then followed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.  

The holdouts included senators who had demanded a path forward for the extension of the Export-Import Bank, and aides said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., committed to bringing an extension up for a vote. Portman also has been the lead Republican pushing an amendment on currency that has prompted a veto threat from the White House and still presents a hurdle for Obama's aims.  

In theory, the trade bill should have sailed through. Trade Promotion Authority had the support of the Republican majority, the Democratic president of the United States and around a dozen pro-trade Democrats.  

And while most other Democrats were against TPA, an extension to a program called Trade Adjustment Assistance that provides income support and training to workers displaced by international trade was added to the trade package.  

But Democrats and Republicans alike needed more sweeteners. Portman and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., pushed for an amendment to the TPA that would strengthen enforcement against currency manipulation, which was unpalatable to the White House and possibly in the House.  

Cantwell, one of the pro-trade Democrats, and Graham had threatened to vote against the trade legislation without some concession for reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank beyond the end of next month, an effort Stabenow said she supported.  

“Being able to get financing, and know they’re going to get paid when they export is absolutely critical,” Stabenow said earlier in the week. “For the life of me, I can’t understand why people who are promoting a free-trade agreement would want to make sure that our businesses could actually use it.”  

But it was anyone’s guess what would happen right up until the end.  

Last week, Democrats filibustered TPA and Trade Adjustment Assistance until they were guaranteed votes on two other trade priorities. This week, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., filibustered the trade bills to delay unrelated security bills, which the Senate will consider following the trade conclusion.  

Next week’s holiday, kicked off by Memorial Day on Monday, now seems seriously in jeopardy. Paul threatened Wednesday night to object to everything to delay the security bills.  

But McConnell pushed forward Thursday morning, filing cloture on both a two-month extension to the Patriot Act and the USA Freedom Act, which would eliminate the bulk data collection program to which Paul was speaking against.  

The sets up Saturday votes unless a deal is reached.  

Related: Rand Paul Threatens Memorial Day Recess Could Conservatives Push TPA Over the Finish Line? Senator Obama vs. President Obama on Trade Carper's High-Test Week, on Two Very Different Tracks Pritzker Touts Bipartisan Trade Push, Wants Deal 'Quickly'    

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