Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Gaming out the TPA Vote

At the moment, it still seems as though House leadership is struggling to find the votes to pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).  TPA would give President Obama the ability to negotiate trade agreements and send them to Congress, which could not filibuster or amend these agreements.  Passing TPA would likely be the first step for the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Currently, most House Democrats are opposed to TPA, so the Obama administration is relying on the support of House Republicans, especially leadership, to pass TPA.  Speaker Boehner's leadership team is working hard to minimize the number of Republican defections on TPA.  According to Politico, the Speaker's team hopes that around 190 of the 244 House Republicans will back TPA; the support of 30 or so Democrats would then allow TPA to pass.

At the moment, this certainly seems like an achievable goal.  According to a helpful whip list compiled by The Hill, only about 30 Republicans are currently leaning against or outright opposed to TPA.  110 Republicans are in favor of TPA or leaning that way, while another 100 or so are undecided (or at least haven't announced their intentions).  Meanwhile, 20 Democrats seem to be leaning in favor of TPA.  If 20 Democrats have already come out in favor of TPA, 30 is a very doable number for the Speaker and the White House.  No doubt, there are numerous Democrats waiting in the wings who would prefer to vote against TPA but will vote in favor of it if the president needs their vote.  So some of the Democrats who are publicly undecided or only leaning against TPA will certainly switch to back it if the vote goes down to the wire.

I would guess, then, that opponents of TPA would need about 60 Republicans (possibly more) in order to stop the bill.  The fact that the House has not yet held a vote on TPA suggests that that number is not totally impossible, but it could be a hard slog to get there.

Right now, the House Republican opposition to TPA includes an interesting assortment of insurgent conservatives and establishment-friendly voices.  For instance, Dave Brat (Va.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Ted Yoho (Fla.), and Don Young (Alaska) are all part of the anti-TPA coalition.  House Republicans face major pressure from donors and those in the conservative movement who have an ideological commitment to "free trade," so there is considerable incentive for Republicans to back TPA.  Meanwhile, opponents of TPA have emphasized the dangers of presidential overreach and cast doubt on whether TPA/TPP actually advance market principles.  This conflict explains why many House GOPers are keeping their options open.

According to a Politico story, a couple dozen House conservatives are negotiating with leadership.  This faction, led by Ohio's Jim Jordan, are thinking about supporting TPA if leadership agrees to certain conditions: "that the charter for the federal Export-Import Bank...not be given a reauthorization vote; that rank-and-file lawmakers be given more power to reject future trade deals; and that aid for workers displaced by free trade be separated from the trade legislation."  The support of this faction would help leadership get to 190 votes, but apparently leadership is concerned that this deal could endanger the bill as a whole.  As this single set of negotiations suggests, there are a lot of moving pieces here.

Below, I offer a haphazard (i.e., far from complete) list of House Republicans whose actions may bear watching in the coming days:

Raul Labrador (Utah): Labrador is an up-and-comer with many allies in the Tea Party.  At the moment, he seems to be leaning against TPA.  If Labrador takes a stand against TPA, he could help rally support among conservatives.  But, if he moves to back it, that could be a sign that opponents of TPA are on a sinking ship.

Jim Jordan (Ohio): As the leader of a major conservative faction, Jordan plays a pivotal role here.  He's currently leaning no, but, if he can strike the aforementioned deal with leadership, he could end up backing TPA.  His faction's support for TPA would likely be the death knell of opposition to the measure.

Trent Franks (Ariz.):  Franks is known as a conservative, and he's expressed his doubts about TPA in the past.  Currently undecided, he could be a good indicator of where House conservatives are leaning on the bill.

Kay Granger (Tex.): A respected voice among House Republicans, Grander is currently undecided.  She's backed TPA before, but now she's expressing concerns about presidential overreach.  If she does end up opposing TPA, that would be a major win for the bill's opponents.

Trey Gowdy (S.C.):  Gowdy's been a loud critic of the abuse of presidential powers during the Obama administration, but he also has many allies in leadership.  Currently, he's undecided on TPA.  Obviously, both sides would like his support.

Bruce Poliquin (Maine):  The rest of the Maine delegation in both the House and the Senate opposes TPA, and Poliquin likely faces a tough re-election race in 2016 (he first won his seat in 2014 by 6 points).  He's currently undecided.  Probably, the politically safe vote for him is against TPA.  If he votes in favor of it, it might be because leadership really needs his vote.

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