16 Feb Biden Remark Casts Doubt on Pillar of U.S. Trade Agenda
By MARK LANDLER and JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Friday acknowledged that Congress will not grant President Obama fast-track trade promotion authority, which analysts say is critical to the president’s hopes to forge huge trade deals with Asia and Europe.
Mr. Biden’s comments called into question the central pillars of the White House’s trade agenda, most immediately the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade pact involving 12 nations, which is the most visible element of Mr. Obama’s strategic shift toward Asia.
Responding to a question at a policy retreat for House Democratic leaders in Cambridge, Md., Mr. Biden said he knows it’s not coming up now, according to people who were in the meeting.
And the vice president took a hard line on the United States’ main trading partners in the Pacific, telling Democrats that he informed the Japanese that the trans-Pacific partnership — a huge trade accord for the entire Pacific Rim — could not go forward if the United States’ auto industry continued to have only a 1 percent market penetration in Japan.
Mr. Biden did, however, stress the importance of engaging Asia and the Pacific to the United States’ economy and security. One House member answered, “Thanks for your explanation of geopolitical priorities,” according to another member who was in the room.
Mr. Biden replied, “But I also get local political priorities.”
Most Democrats in both chambers of Congress oppose granting Mr. Obama fast-track authority, which is considered vital to obtaining trade concessions from foreign countries because it would bar amendments to those deals when they go before Congress for ratification.
Last month, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said he had no plans to schedule a vote on trade promotion authority. On Wednesday, the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, told reporters that giving Mr. Obama that authority was “out of the question.”
Democrats, as well as labor and environmental groups, worry that multilateral trade deals inevitably siphon off manufacturing jobs in the United States, and say that these pacts do not do enough to protect the environment.
Mr. Obama, who spoke after Mr. Biden, did not mention the trade promotion issue in his brief remarks, focusing on issues on which the Democrats are generally united, like raising the federal minimum wage and overhauling the nation’s immigration laws.
“When it comes to immigration,” Mr. Obama said, referring to resistance from Republicans, “punting and putting things off for another year, another two years, another three years, it hurts people. It hurts our economy. It hurts families.”
The remarks by the president and the vice president come as both parties paper over divisions approaching the midterm election season. Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio heeded warnings from his Republican members and put an immigration overhaul on pause to avoid the spectacle of intraparty warfare on the issue.
This week, Mr. Boehner engineered quick passage of legislation to lift the government’s borrowing authority past the November election, “pulling the bandage off the scab and doing it fast,” said Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania.
Fast-track trade authority is the issue on which the White House and congressional Democratic leaders are most obviously at loggerheads. In the past two weeks, Mr. Boehner has taken to publicly goading Mr. Obama to move forward on it, saying it was one area in which Republicans and the White House could work together to create jobs.
A spokesman for Mr. Boehner, Brendan Buck, said in a statement after Mr. Obama’s speech, “The president can ignore the trade issue all he wants, but that won’t change the fact that it’s his own party standing in the way of one of his priorities.”
Correction: February 14, 2014
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article stated incorrectly where comments from Vice President Biden came. They were not from a transcript of his remarks provided by the vice president’s office, they were from lawmakers who were at the meeting.