According to The Christian Science Monitor, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus are moving away from the TPP trade agreement. They include Representatives Marcia Fudge, Keith Ellison, Barbara Lee, and Cedric Richmond.
The constituency of Democratic Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio usually supports the president, writes the Monitor, but not on the bill to give him the authority to more easily negotiate the largest trade deal in United States history, the TPP.
The President says that the TPP is better than NAFTA (is he admitting that NAFTA is bad?).
He says the TPP includes “enforceable” labor, environmental, and human rights standards. He says it’s a job creator that will open new markets to the US, and that it will act as an economic and strategic counterbalance to China.
Perhaps, writes the Monitor, but Congresswoman Marcia Fudge’s constituents don’t believe it. Her district is in Ohio, an area arguably hard-hit by trade agreements. Fudge, who chaired the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in 2014, is against President Obama’s trade agenda.
The issue may come to a vote as early as this week, and every vote could matter. No House members are more loyal to Mr. Obama than the black caucus, which makes up about a quarter of House Democrats.
However, the Monitor writes that in this case, many of Obama’s most loyal “foot soldiers” are expected to abandon him on the TPP trade agreement.
Partly, it’s due to the NAFTA effect from past trade deals and how they are perceived to have affected minorities, writes the C.S. Monitor. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus say labor unions are forcing the issue, taking away whatever advantage Obama might have.
Ultimately, black caucus members are politicians with a constituency, “and they’ve got to go back to their district and explain why we offshore people’s jobs,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D) of Minnesota, in an interview last week.
“I like this president. But this thing here? We can’t roll together on this,” he told a TV crew earlier in the day.
So, Representatives Fudge and Ellison are coming out against the trade agreement.
Last month, 14 Senate Democrats joined most Republicans to pass a bipartisan, “fast track” trade package bill that also includes assistance for workers displaced by trade agreements.
But if workers are displaced by trade agreements, then why would the legislature vote for the agreement in the first place?
The “fast track” legislation would ease the president’s ability to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The deal, which the president would like to wrap up before his term ends, involves 12 nations and covers about 40 percent of the global economy. The agreement does not include China.
“Fast track” allows Congress an up-or-down vote on a trade deal but not the ability to amend or change it, and it seems like it is more difficult to pass in the House than the Senate, according to The Christian Science Monitor.
Fewer than 20 Democrats have publicly sided with Obama. Fast track will need 218 votes to pass. While Republicans, who generally favor trade deals, hold 245 seats – their largest majority since before the Great Depression – a sizable portion also oppose fast track, writes the C.S. Monitor.
Holdouts from both sides are seeking deals, but the Republican leadership doesn’t want to change the carefully crafted package. Changes would necessitate going back to the Senate – a sure deal-killer.
President Obama is coordinating closely with Republicans on the deal, and applying a full-court press to conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, members from safe districts, and Democrats from port cities or big transport hubs, writes The Christian Science Monitor. He has also been discussing the trade agreement with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The White House lobbying of the black caucus has been going on for months: personal phone calls from the president; face-to-face discussions with him or his trade representative; a group invite to the White House in February. Plus multiple Democratic briefings on the Hill. The message: This is not NAFTA.
For Fudge, that argument carries little weight, even for a president she trusts as much as Obama.
“I’m from an area that was a huge manufacturing mecca before NAFTA,” she says in an interview. “Now I understand this may not be the same deal. But the people in my district do not believe these kinds of deals are things that we should be supportive of.”
Likewise, Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, who represents Oakland, Calif. – a port city and heavily African American – adamantly opposes fast track and the TPP. At an anti-fast track rally at the foot of the Capitol steps last week, she said that trade deals disproportionately affect communities of color.
Her example: the “US-China trade deal,” in which 35 percent of jobs lost were in communities of color, according to the Communications Workers of America.
Technically, there never was a US-China free trade agreement. Congresswoman Lee is referring to China joining the World Trade Organization in 2001. This is “the kind of apples-to-oranges comparison that frustrates people like Rep. Gregory Meeks (D) of New York, who supports fast track and is busily lobbying his fellow black caucus members, as well as other Democrats,” writes The Christian Science Monitor.
“What I’m trying to do is see if we can talk about the actual facts,” said Congressman Meeks in an interview.
He believes that if members are worried about China, then they ought to support the deal. Is he worried about high African-American unemployment? “You betcha, that’s why we have to do this deal,” he says.
Meeks believes that union jobs are disappearing not because of trade agreements, but because of technology – like the auto-pay parking machines. His district includes John F. Kennedy Airport, so a boost in US exports would be a plus for some of his constituents, writes the Christian Science Monitor.
Meeks lays the blame for the president’s difficult fight at the feet of organized labor and the “heavy, heavy lobbying” by the AFL-CIO. Some members, he says, committed to labor to oppose fast track last year, and now that they’ve seen the facts, they wish they had not made that commitment. Others, he said, are still weighing the politics versus the facts. “They’re agonized,” he says.
Members are complaining about labor threats to fund primary campaigns against those who side with the president on trade – or, at least, to withhold campaign funds and support. African Americans, many representing low-income districts, are particularly dependent on labor contributions, and the president has promised to help supporters who may face a primary challenge.
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) of Louisiana has said that labor is going overboard and may face a backlash among House members. And yet, he seems to agree with their argument, citing stagnant wages, high unemployment, and income inequality as reasons he may vote against fast track.
Representing the port city of New Orleans, Congressman Richmond, also a member of the black caucus, has been heavily lobbied by both labor and the administration. During the past six to seven months, he’s talked with the US trade representative and twice with the president – once face-to-face and recently on the phone.
The president’s done everything except let me fly Air Force One,” he chuckled. Still, he said last week, “I’m leaning no.”