With President Barack Obama "in overdrive" pushing his trade agenda and the House expected to take up so-called Fast Track authority "any day now," progressives are flooding Capitol Hill on Wednesday with phone calls and petitions expressing their opposition to corporate-friendly trade deals.
Flanked by boxes holding upwards of two million petition signatures, elected officials including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) stood with labor, environmental, public health, and civil society groups outside the Capitol building, vowing to defeat Fast Track as the battle moves into what the AFSCME trade union called "a critical stage."
The Senate voted to hand over Fast Track, or trade promotion authority, to Obama at the end of May—a move critics say greases the skids for mammoth and troubling trade agreements like the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
But the bigger fight was always expected to come in the House, where many Democrats and some Republicans are reluctant to approve a bill that would enable the president to present trade agreements that Congress can ratify or reject, but not change. While it's unclear how many Democratic votes the president needs to pass Fast Track, its estimated that he'll need to win over as many as two dozen lawmakers due to opposition from Republican lawmakers who generally back free trade but are reluctant to grant Obama more power.
"Getting the needed number of House Democrats on board is the biggest test of Obama’s legislative prowess in years," according to Politico, which adds: "The stakes couldn’t be higher for the president. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the top legislative priority for his final years in office and passage of the deal would mark the largest trade initiative in decades."
To that end, reports The Hill, "Obama is making an aggressive effort to sway undecided Democrats," making phone calls and trying to convince members of his own party it won’t be politically dangerous for them to back him or the trade deals he supports.
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According to The Hill,
President Obama believes he has 20 Democratic votes in the House for a bill to grant him fast-track authority to negotiate new trade deals.
The president revealed his whip count to Rep. Jim Himes (Conn.) during a phone call intended to talk the undecided Democrat into backing the legislation.
Obama's not the only one with a working telephone, however. Progressive groups are urging supporters to call their members of Congress on Wednesday, a national day of action in opposition to the legislation they say "threatens everything you care about: democracy, jobs, the environment, and the Internet."
"If we swamp them with phone calls, we will deliver a powerful message that can overpower the big corporate money that is pushing fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership," wrote Campaign for America's Future fellow Dave Johnson on Wednesday.
In a separate call-to-action, the AFL-CIO stated bluntly: "The time to stop Fast Track is now or never."
In recent weeks, critics have escalated their call for the Obama administration to "release the text" of the TPP—a call that culminated on Tuesday with simultaneous efforts by WikiLeaks, which announced a $100,000 'bounty' for the complete text of the agreement, and labor unions, which unfurled a giant banner outside the AFL-CIO before marching to the U.S. Trade Representative's office to literally ask to see the text. They were locked out.
Watch Sanders's speech from Wednesday's rally below: