The Key Democrat Who Can Help Pass TPP
Policy + Politics

The Key Democrat Who Can Help Pass TPP

Everybody seems to want to know where House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) stands on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and a related bill on Trade Promotion Authority, which would give President Obama the ability to bring trade agreements directly to Congress for an up or down vote.   

It’s no surprise really. Hoyer is a longtime advocate of free trade, but the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives has been trying to present a united front by withholding commitments to vote one way or the other while saying that they are looking for a way to “get to ‘Yes.’” 

Related: CBO Chief Explains How Bad Our Budgets Can Get 

Republicans plainly don’t have the votes necessary to pass the bill with just their own members so Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her caucus are holding out for possible policy concessions from the GOP. 

That has left Hoyer in an awkward position.  He has strongly supported trade deals but so far has not taken a definitive position on the TPP. But it’s not for lack of trying on the part of Washington reporters. 

In an interview with Bloomberg TV on Tuesday, host Betty Liu asked about the prospects of the TPA bill, which the Senate is expected to pass this week, and the eventual vote on the TPP deal. 

Hoyer said that his support for the trade deal is truly up in the air. 

“I, frankly, have voted for trade deals in the past, but I am looking at this one very, very closely to see whether or not it is, in fact, in the best interest of our country and our economy and jobs for our people,” he said. 

In a pen and pad briefing with reporters on Tuesday, Hoyer was again asked if he had decided how he would be voting. 

“No, I have not,” he said. 

Maybe three really is a charm. In another appearance in Washington on Tuesday, facing questions from CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, Hoyer seemed to come pretty close to indicating that he will ultimately support the trade deal. 

Related: McConnell Says TPA Will Counter Chinese Dominance 

“So far there is no member of the House Democratic Leadership that has come out in favor of trade,” Bash began. “What’s your position?” 

“I’m part of the Democratic leadership,” Hoyer began. 

“I know, but you haven’t come out opposed to it either,” she said. 

“I’m not opposed to it either…. ” 

“Are you a yes or a no?” 

“Remain flexible,” Hoyer said. “And I remain flexible to this day. But it was a good try.” 

Related: Obama v. Warren on Fast Track: Why This Fight Is Getting So Nasty 

Hoyer went on to say that the biggest problem with getting trade legislation through Congress is that “the majority of the public… [has] expressed great reservations about whether or not trade bills have been positive for jobs and growth in our country.” 

Do you have reservations? Bash asked. 

“I believe trade growth is a positive force,” he said. “What I think we have though is that globalization and trade growth since 1992 have gone hand-in-hand.” 

Related: Senators Reach Deal to Move on with Fast Track Trade Bill 

Hoyer said there is no doubt that globalization has led to the offshoring of American jobs, but he said he believes the U.S. has the potential to begin bringing many of those jobs back home again. 

Back on the topic of TPP, Hoyer referred to an article published Tuesday in The New York Times in which he said former Obama Chief of Staff Bill Daley “argued very persuasively…about how trade is good for our country.” 

“You do not sound like someone who’s going to vote against this trade bill,” Bash said. 

“Well, I hope I don’t sound like someone who’s going to telegraph what I’m going to do, and I say that because I am one of the leaders in our caucus and Nancy Pelosi has said we want to do some things to try to get to yes and we have been doing a lot of very extensive informational meetings with the administration with other experts.” 

The meetings, he said, were part of an effort to get Democratic members of the House comfortable that the doom-and-gloom scenarios being painted by opponents of the trade pact and TPA won’t come to pass. 

Related: House Speaker Boehner Upbeat on Fast Track Prospects 

It wasn’t clear on Tuesday, though, how close Hoyer would be to Pelosi when the issues come to a vote. 

Pelosi last week criticized TPA in her weekly press conference. “It is effectively a six-year, I don’t want to say ‘get out of jail free’ but it’s something to that effect, a ‘carte blanche.’” 

Contrast that with Hoyer, who on Tuesday seemed quite unconcerned about giving the President fast track authority. He said he had recently asked a Republican colleague about giving the president Trade Promotion Authority. 

“He kind of shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘We do 95 percent of the things around here with a closed rule anyway. What’s the difference?’ Fast track is simply a closed rule.” (In a closed rule, a bill is brought to the floor of the House for a vote without allowing members to offer amendments.) 

Bash asked him if Hoyer regretted any of his votes in favor of trade bills in the past. 

“No,” he said. “No, I don’t. Not at all.” 

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: