As the White House pleads with House Democrats for votes on trade, President Obama has given personal assurances to Democratic lawmakers that they’ll have his strong support next year if they vote yes on granting him the authority he says he needs to negotiate the best trade deals with Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
The Senate narrowly passed the bill, but it still is more than a dozen votes short in the House.
In a political twist for Obama, most Republicans support the bill while most Democrats oppose it.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has warned not to expect any additional votes from Democrats, but House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan told The AP Tuesday that Democrats had added to the roughly 18 of their members voting yes.
Obama’s offer of campaign help in exchange for a “yes” vote leads to the question: Will Democrats even want Obama campaigning for them in 2016?
Last year, most Democrats in competitive districts wanted the president to stay away, concerned that his sagging popularity made him more of a political liability than an asset among independent and Republican-leaning voters.
In San Diego, where unions are lobbying Democratic Rep. Scott Peters to vote against trade, Gretchen Newsom of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said the unions’ powerful get-out-the-vote operation will be much more valuable next year than a “celebrity endorsement” from Obama.
Obama administration officials said Democratic lawmakers have told the White House they want the president out front, making the case in their districts and on national media to provide political cover.
They pointed to recent polling from the Pew Research Center showing that more Democrats believe past trade deals have helped the U.S. rather than hurt it.
Dan Pfeiffer, until recently Obama’s long-serving senior adviser, said Obama’s enduring popularity with die-hard Democrats would make him a huge asset in next year’s primaries.
“He offers fundraising and organizational muscle like no one else other than the Democratic nominee, who will be otherwise occupied,” Pfeiffer said.
To be sure, Obama will likely remain a fundraising powerhouse for Democrats even as the party’s enthusiasm shifts to Hillary Rodham Clinton and her competitors for the 2016 Democratic nomination.
And in a few districts, particularly those occupied by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Obama’s endorsement could go a long way toward inoculating Democrats who come under fire from unions and liberals if they vote for trade.
Such a scenario could put the president and the unions — traditionally close Obama allies — on opposing sides of Democratic primary fights heading into the final months of Obama’s presidency.
On Tuesday, the AFL-CIO launched a media ad attacking freshman Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) who announced her support for the bill over the weekend after stating she was opposed.
Obama is seeking legislation that would allow Congress to approve or reject — but not modify — a pair of trade deals he’s negotiating with countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Obama argues the legislation is imperative to negotiating the best possible deal because foreign leaders want assurance Congress won’t scuttle it at the last minute.