A complicated legislative strategy to grant President Obama sweeping power to negotiate international trade deals came one step closer to success on Tuesday. The Senate voted to cut off debate on a House bill that would grant the president Trade Promotion Authority, meeting the 60-vote threshold needed to prevent a filibuster by Democrats opposed to the legislation.
However, the ongoing battles over TPA have highlighted a growing rift between Republican leadership in both the House and Senate, and their party’s most conservative members.
On Tuesday morning, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who had voted for an earlier bill that contained TPA, announced in an op-ed published by the conservative website Breitbart.com that he would be changing his vote.
“The American people,” Cruz wrote, “do not trust President Obama. And they do not trust Republican leadership in Congress. And the reason is simple: for too long, politicians in Washington have not told the truth.”
Cruz said that while he is generally in favor of free trade, “TPA in this Congress has become enmeshed in corrupt Washington backroom deal-making, along with serious concerns that it would open up the potential for sweeping changes in our laws that trade agreements typically do not include.”
He said that he was concerned that the Obama administration might be able to use a trade agreement as a backdoor method of changing U.S. immigration laws – something the administration has said is not on the table.
In addition, he said, he believes there are “secret deals” between Republican leaders and Democrats, possibly involving the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, which Cruz opposes.
He also suggested that Senate majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) misled him prior to the first vote on TPA. Cruz said that he specifically asked McConnell if any deals had been cut to assure Democratic support. McConnell, he said, assured him that there was no deal. Now, however, Cruz seems convinced that McConnell and/or House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) have made a deal on Ex-Im with Democrats, though he offers no real proof such an agreement exists.
“Why does Republican Leadership always give in to the Democrats?” Cruz wrote. “Why does Leadership always disregard the promises made to the conservative grassroots?”
Also on Tuesday, there were signs of growing discontent among hard-right House Republicans over their leadership’s treatment of members who failed to toe the party line on a rules votes. Such votes, which dictate the way debate and voting will be managed on specific pieces of legislation, are usually seen as a test of party loyalty.
However, 34 Republicans voted against a rule that applied to trade legislation. Three of the no votes came from members of the GOP leadership’s “Whip” team – the members that enforce party discipline on votes. Reps. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Steve Pearce of New Mexico, and Trent Franks of Arizona, were all stripped of their position as a result.
Then, on Monday, it was announced that Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), another no vote on the rules package, was stripped of his chairmanship of a subcommittee on the House Oversight and Investigations Committee.
On Tuesday, according to The Hill, members of the House Freedom Caucus, which is made up of the body’s most conservative members, were said to be meeting to discuss possible retaliation against Boehner, either by blocking legislation by withholding their votes, or even trying to overthrow Boehner as speaker. The latter appears to have no real chance of succeeding, as it would either require a rebellion in the GOP ranks much larger than just the Freedom Caucus, or a decision by the most conservative members of the House throw in their lot with Democrats to elect a Democratic speaker.
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