With proponents expressing increasing confidence that they have the bipartisan support to pass Fast Track in the House—and Republicans pushing to hold a vote as early as next week and certainly by the end of the month—progressive groups are dialing up the pressure on key lawmakers whose influence they see as critical in the fight over corporate-friendly trade deals.
In particular, groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, CREDO Action, and Democracy for America are targeting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who thus far has declined to say how she'll vote on Fast Track, or trade promotion authority.
Passed by the Senate last month, the Fast Track bill would grant Congress an up-or-down vote on Obama's trade deals, but prohibit amendments or a filibuster in the Senate. The authority is seen as a necessary step in the president's bid to finalize the highly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which continues to amass foes on many fronts.
While progressives in the House, such as Keith Ellison (D-Mich.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and Donna Edwards (D-Md.), have been outspoken in their opposition to Fast Track and the so-called "free trade" deals it is meant to promote, the mainstream Democratic apparatus—while not supporting Fast Track outright—has been more accommodating to the White House, providing what groups call "extraordinary access to the Democratic House Caucus to make its case."
"As progressive opposition to Fast Track intensifies, Leader Pelosi is conspicuously absent from the fight," said Murshed Zaheed, deputy political director at CREDO Action. "President Obama has chosen to side with Republicans and big corporations. Now Leader Pelosi has to decide if she’s going to use her position to help President Obama or rally her caucus on behalf of the millions of Americans who want to stop Fast Track and the TPP."
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In an email sent Friday to members, Democracy for America chair Jim Dean echoed that call: "House Democrats are under intense pressure from the president, from Republicans, and from big corporations to support Fast Track. If Nancy Pelosi comes out against Fast Track, that will help give those Democrats important cover to stand up to the rich and powerful and stop this bad deal."
Meanwhile, members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation met Thursday with Pelosi's chief of staff to hand-deliver a letter from over 250 tech companies and digital rights organizations who oppose the TPP and Fast Track for containing threats to net neutrality, digital innovation, and online freedom of expression.
According to reporting by the Wall Street Journal on Thursday:
House Republican aides estimate that between 25 to 30 Democrats will be needed to pass the fast-track bill—a smaller number than previously estimated, because more Republicans are now indicating support. Mr. Obama has told lawmakers that he believes he has lined up 20 Democratic votes.
Mrs. Pelosi suggested Thursday morning that Mr. Obama has reached the limit of Democratic votes he will be able to muster. She stuck with her estimate that Republicans would need to produce 200 votes to get the measure passed. Mr. Ryan has suggested Republicans aren’t yet at that level.
The Hill is updating a detailed—and constantly shifting—"whip count" here.
Obama is reportedly wooing select members of Congress, even as labor groups threaten political consequences for those legislators who vote in favor of Fast Track.
"Some of our lawmakers already have committed to stand with their wealthy campaign donors and support Fast Track," the AFL-CIO said in blog post this week. "But many of our elected officials still can be moved—especially if we remind them that we vote."
CREDO Action's Zaheed added on Friday: "Pelosi is the quarterback for House Democrats. Will she throw the game on behalf of the President or step up and be a true progressive leader by rallying her caucus to block Fast Track and kill this terrible pro-corporate trade deal? It’s long past time for Leader Pelosi to prove whose side she is on."