Fast-Track Side-Stepped By Senate Democrats

Now this is going to be a test of journalistic acumen and accuracy. This afternoon a motion to proceed on a Trade Promotion Authority (a.k.a. “fast-track”) bill failed because it gained only 52 votes of the 60 needed. Only one Democrat, Tom Carper, voted for it. So does that mean 45 Democratic Senators opposed “fast-track?” No, though that’s what you’d guess from a confusing story at The Hill by Alexander Bolton with the lede: “Senate Democrats on Tuesday delivered a stinging blow to President Obama’s trade agenda…”

A somewhat clearer piece by WaPo’s Mike DeBonis explains that Democratic fast-track supporters, including original cosponsor of the TPA bill in question, Ron Wyden, refused to let the bill go because Republicans would not agree to schedule voters on two related bills, one on currency manipulation and another on trade preferences for African countries.

Ahead of the vote, many Democrats — including some of the handful who have supported Obama’s trade push — said they were not inclined to move forward with debate unless Republican leaders provided assurances that the various pieces would move in tandem.

About an hour before the vote, that included Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who negotiated the trade package with top Republicans in the House and Senate and who has been a rare ally of Obama’s trade agenda inside the president’s party.

“Until there is a path to get all four bills passed,” Wyden said after a lunchtime meeting with fellow pro-trade Democrats, “we will — certainly most of us — have to vote no.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest repeatedly used the term “procedural snafu” to describe what was going on in the Senate over TPA. It’s a fight between Ds and Rs in the Senate, and not so much with the president. So I think the right thing to say is that Senate Democrats, including both supporters and opponents of “fast-track,” side-stepped a vote until such time as the schedule of related bills meets their satisfaction. To the extent that it’s a temporary demand Republicans could accept without changing the TPA bill itself, I don’t know if it’s proper to even call it a filibuster. But we’ll know soon enough.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.