WASHINGTON: A leading Republican supporter of trade legislation that House Democrats drove to defeat said Sunday that President Barack Obama must sway members of his own party if he wants to save the measure.
“The Democrats abandoned their president,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. “It was stunning that they would do this to the leader of their party.”
Union-backed Democrats struck a blow to Obama’s trade agenda on Friday, voting down a favorite job-retraining program in order to jeopardize the package’s main component: special negotiating authority for Obama . Other presidents have won the ability to propose trade agreements that Congress can ratify or reject, but not amend.
The administration is working to finish trade negotiations with 11 other Pacific Rim countries including Japan and Canada. Other deals could follow.
“They are the ones who are making him a very lame-duck president, his own party,” said Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate.
Republican leaders generally support Obama’s trade objectives and indicated they might try to revive the legislation as early as this week.
“The president has a lot of work to do with his own party to turn this around and to salvage this,” Ryan said. “I’m optimistic. I think this can be salvaged, because people are going to realize just how big the consequences are for American leadership, for whether or not America is going to lead in the global economy.”
But turning around the rejection could mean shifting at least 90 votes within either or both parties, a big burden.
Labor Secretary Tom Perez cited “conversations throughout the weekend with various people” and said he was “very confident that we can find a way. There are multiple pathways here.”
He said the stakes are too high to risk failure.
“We need to write the rules of the global economy. The world is watching us right now,” he said.
The key vote Friday came when 144 House Democrats joined 158 Republicans to reject extension of a program that helps workers who lose their jobs to international trade.
Senators had linked it to the measure on negotiating authority for the president, which the House voted 219-211 to endorse.
The vast majority of House Democrats voted against the retraining program as a means to scuttle the entire package. Many Democrats have felt let down by promises from past administrations about trade agreements they hold responsible for job and manufacturing losses in their districts.
“Republicans delivered,” said Ryan. “The question is, are the Democrats going to do this to their president?”
Ryan appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” while Perez was on ABC’s “This Week.”