Trade Spat Between Obama, Democrats Deepens

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg News/TNS) -

A rift widened between President Barack Obama and liberal Democrats in Congress over trade as he and Sen. Elizabeth Warren renewed their gripes a day before a key vote on a potential deal with Pacific nations.

Warren disputed assurances Obama has given on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, warning of dangers to consumer, health and labor protections in U.S. law under potential trade deals. She argued that the fast-track negotiating authority Obama seeks would help Wall Street roll back rules imposed on banks after the 2008 financial crisis.

Her remarks, in a Washington Post interview, came after Obama called her “absolutely wrong” and said she and other Democratic opponents of the trade deal were living in the past.

The fight flips Washington conventions. A president who during his time in office has had to rally his party against a virtually unified Republican opposition is now sending handwritten notes to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell while trading barbs with Warren and other Democrats.

The outcome of the debate may have implications for the 2016 presidential race. While Republicans generally have favored free-trade pacts, some factions aligned with the Tea Party have criticized the trade authority Obama is seeking. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, has stayed out of the debate so far.

The fast-track trade legislation faces a test on Tuesday, with opponents able to block Senate consideration if they can muster 41 votes against proceeding to the bill. Seven Democrats voted in the Senate Finance Committee to approve the legislation, suggesting opponents won’t be able to stall it.

Obama may need as many as 30 Democratic supporters in the House, where passage is not assured.