“Democrats in Disarray,” Part II

I complained this morning about the permanent audience for “Democrats in Disarray” stories like Robert Draper’s piece turning the Maryland Senate primary into a microcosm of a party torn apart by dissension between dirty hippies and centrist pragmatists. But I allowed as how Draper was either very smart or very lucky to time the release of his piece to a moment when perceptions of a Battle for the Ages between Democrats over trade policy might make his argument more credible than it would otherwise seem.

As if to prove my point, Politico‘s Manu Raju posted an insider take on the fast-track conflict bearing the mild-mannered title: “Scenes From the Democratic Meltdown.” If you read it, you will notice a rather large planted axiom that in deciding to revolt against Mitch McConnell’s decisions on which side-issues to move along with fast-track in a package and which to deep-six, fast-track co-sponsor Ron Wyden was turning his coat and turning his back on Barack Obama. There is little evidence (other than Republican complaints and blind quotes from “pro-trade forces”) for the former assertion and no evidence for the latter. Here’s what Wyden’s saying:

Wyden strongly denied moving the goalposts in the talks, saying that Democrats expected all along that a strong package of enforcement measures would be paired with the trade bill, in order to ensure they become law as well.

Emerging from a private meeting with about 14 pro-trade Democrats before a full caucus lunch Tuesday, Wyden said his party would remain opposed until additional demands were met. He bemoaned how candy makers wanted to preserve a loophole allowing them to import African cocoa harvested by child labor.

“The group is concerned about the lack of a commitment to trade enforcement, which is specifically the customs bill,” Wyden said. “Until there is a path, where all four bills passed — these are the bills that are passed by the Senate Finance Committee, bipartisan bills — we will certainly, certainly most of us have to vote no.”

This is a contingent position, not an abandonment of TPA, and Wyden was acting in concert with other “pro-trade Democrats,” not leaping across some imaginary fence into the arms of Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown while thumbing his nose at the White House. The tell-tale sign that Raju doesn’t have much to work with in making the case of a definitive party-wide split among Democrats is that the last third of his piece is about the earlier arguments over the back-and-forth sniping between Warren and Obama. So he’s got Claire McCaskill defending Obama on that front even as McCaskill is voting with Wyden on the front the story is supposed to be covering.

Maybe the president is cowering in the Oval Office weeping and muttering imprecations, alone and abandoned. But we haven’t seen any actual evidence of it, and BTW, last time I checked in with the closely observant Greg Sargent, TPA isn’t dead. If it does die, you can blame the White House for not anticipating what might happen, but you really ought to blame Mitch McConnell–the guy who broke a major taboo by publicly arguing that TPA would benefit a future Republican president more than Obama right in the middle of this brouhaha–for pushing away the Democrats who might have given him the votes he needed.

UPDATE: Even as I was writing this post, the “Democratic meltdown” unmelted:

U.S. Senate leaders agreed on a deal to move forward with President Barack Obama’s legislation to speed approval of trade agreements following a one-day rebellion by Democrats.

The Senate will hold separate votes tomorrow on related bills sought by Democrats, including one to prevent currency manipulation. Then, the chamber will hold another vote on whether to advance Obama’s legislation to speed approval of foreign trade agreements.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, called the agreement reached Wednesday “a sensible plan.”

In other words, Wyden’s tactics worked, and McConnell blinked. Even if fast-track fails–which may happen in the House even if it doesn’t happen in the Senate–Democrats may wind up with a broader non-TPP trade agenda with greater unity.

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.