President Barack Obama told Republican governors on Monday that he remains “cautiously optimistic” that Congress will approve a sweeping trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations this year.
“The presidential campaigns have created some noise” about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama said during a question-and-answer session with governors of both parties, meeting in Washington for an annual conference of the National Governors Association. Labor unions, he acknowledged, are “not happy with me. They’re adamant in their opposition.”
The trade agreement, which would lower tariffs between nations that collectively produce about 40 percent of global commerce, including Japan, Canada and Mexico, is opposed by much of Obama’s own party. He is counting on Republican congressional leaders to round up enough votes to pass the pact, a cornerstone of the agenda for his last year in office.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we can still get it done,” Obama said. The deal was signed Feb. 4 in New Zealand.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, have concerns “on the margins” of the deal, Obama said. Ryan told reporters on Feb. 11 that he didn’t think the trade agreement had enough support in Congress to pass.
Both Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, have said they oppose the trade deal as it is currently written.
The group of governors at the White House included the chief executives of several states that are suing the Obama administration over executive actions to protect more than 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and to require states to use less coal for power production. Both plans have been blocked by courts while they are litigated.
Obama warned the governors that “states with extractive industries” should be preparing for a future economy that is less dependent on fossil fuels. He told Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, that he would be happy to review federal regulations in partnership with the NGA.
“I do not believe in regulation for regulation’s sake,” he said. It is not the case, he said, “that I get a kick out of big government.”
Some of the states’ cases are pending before the Supreme Court, where the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia could improve the administration’s chances of victory.