Bipartisan distrust of Obama threatens trade deal, remainder of term

obama whcdGlobal warming has emerged as the newest battleground on trade, with opponents on both the right and the left trying to use the hot-button issue to sink President Obama’s quest for a legacy-building free trade deal.

Conservatives argue that Mr. Obama will use trade negotiating powers to write a binding climate deal into any agreement and say that alone is reason to deny the White House fast-track negotiating powers. Liberal opponents of a trade deal say they don’t think the agreement gives the president enough power to work on trade.

The confusing dichotomy underscores the distrust of Mr. Obama on both sides of the political spectrum — and the intensity of opponents determined to scuttle the emerging deal.

They will get their next chance Tuesday as the issue returns to the floor of the Senate for a major filibuster showdown on whether to grant Mr. Obama fast-track negotiating powers, or Trade Promotion Authority. The president needs fast-track powers to conclude negotiations on a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal.

A coalition of Republicans and Democrats will try to hold the center and rally support to pass the trade deal for Mr. Obama and for the business groups that have demanded it, saying it is critical to the U.S. positioning in the world economy to lead on free trade.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican who is leading conservative opponents, said he fears fast-track trade authority will be a way for Mr. Obama to impose global warming controls on the U.S. by negotiating stricter greenhouse gas emissions into a binding international agreement and circumventing Congress after lawmakers give him initial approval.

“Mr. President, we have seen you operate. We are not going to authorize you to enter into the creation of an international union where you get to impose additional powers on us without creating it through the treaty process,” the Alabama Republican said on the Senate floor last week.

He repeated the warning Monday in a letter to colleagues, urging them to slow down and demand that Mr. Obama release all the details of his plans before Congress gives him approval.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael B.G. Froman has insisted that the administration isn’t trying to deceive Congress. In a letter this month to Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, Mr. Froman ruled out a number of areas where Republicans fear circumvention.

“The administration recognizes that the 2015 TPA bill does not provide the administration any new authority to enter into climate change agreements,” he wrote. “In addition, the administration is not negotiating language or provisions related to population control, family planning or related topics.”

One of the bills Republicans are trying to pass as part of the trade package, known as the customs enforcement legislation, adds even more restrictions to the president’s powers, including a specific prohibition on negotiating global warming or immigration deals as part of trade agreements.

Republican trade opponents fear that is not enough and worry that Mr. Obama will ignore that legislation, as they say he has done on other immigration and environmental issues.

Democratic trade opponents say their fear is just the opposite — that he would obey customs enforcement and miss out on a good chance to force the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Rep. Donna F. Edwards, Maryland Democrat, called the restrictions “shameful,” and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, cited the restraints on global warming negotiations as one of her major reasons for leading opposition against Mr. Obama’s chief domestic priority.

“We now have an absolute prohibition, a gag order where we can’t talk about climate in the greatest opportunity we would have to deal with climate change,” said Rep. Daniel T. Kildee Michigan Democrat.

Hollywood weighed in as well. Actor Mark Ruffalo, who portrays Dr. Bruce Banner in the “Avengers” movie franchise, called the restriction on global warming negotiations “insidious.”

“We cannot allow a trade deal that will put corporate profits above our climate, clean air, and water protections,” he said in a statement released by Public Citizen.

The trade package has been on weak legislative ground for weeks.

It survived an early vote in the Senate but seemed to have gone down to defeat in the House two weeks ago after opponents, chiefly liberal Democrats, voted against one of their own priorities — assistance for workers displaced by free trade — to poison the entire package.

Republican leaders, with the blessing of Mr. Obama, reworked the process and passed a stand-alone bill with fast-track negotiating powers but not the worker assistance.

The Senate will vote Tuesday on heading off a filibuster of the fast-track powers bill, then likely will vote Wednesday on the worker assistance legislation, which has been coupled with a popular set of trade preferences for African countries and Haiti — a bid to entice Democrats.

The White House said Mr. Obama was working the phones Monday in advance of the filibuster showdown.

The fast-track bill could go straight to the president after passage, but the worker assistance would have to go back to the House, where Democrats would be faced with a final decision on whether to further embarrass their party leader.

Congress also is likely to vote on beginning a conference committee to hammer out final details on the customs enforcement bill.

“With just a little more trust, a little more cooperation and simply voting consistently, we’ll get there,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

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