In Tight Contest, Trade Deal Heads to the Bottom of the Ninth

NYT FDCarl Hulse 6/12/2015

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Good Friday morning from Washington. The campaign trail leads for the moment through Utah and Mitt Romney’s candidate summit meeting, but the primary action is in the House, which is scrambling to complete a vote over the trade deal that has aligned President Obama with Republicans and that sent him to a baseball diamond on Thursday to press for the votes he needs.

The monthslong battle over giving Mr. Obama special trade-negotiating power is set to end in a close vote in the House on Friday as both opponents and proponents made an intense last-minute push for support.

After surviving a scare in a test vote on Thursday, Republican leaders were hopeful that they could win approval of a measure to clear the way for expedited trade talks, one of Mr. Obama’s economic priorities, after top administration officials pressed fellow Democrats for help.

Most House Democrats oppose the bill, seeing it as a threat to American workers, and about three dozen Republicans remained unwilling to give such authority to Mr. Obama. But nearly two dozen Democrats and most House Republicans appeared ready to back the measure and put them in reach of the votes they need. The main question was whether Democrats would oppose an assistance program for displaced workers in a separate vote in an attempt to derail the entire package.

If granted, the trade power would represent a victory for the president. But its cost would be the dissatisfaction of House Democrats who would have preferred the White House put its concerted efforts behind initiatives like a highway bill instead. It might be an even bigger victory, however, for Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Mr. Ryan, the 2012 vice-presidential nominee whose deal-closing skills have been questioned on Capitol Hill, went all out for the trade bill. He and his team worked his colleagues hard, offering assurances that the bill would not give the president new leeway on other issues like immigration and climate change.

The big loser if the legislation goes through? Organized labor, which pulled out the stops to defeat it and threatened to go after Democrats who defied the unions.