The White House is hunting for support among House Democrats as President Obama seeks “fast-track” authority to negotiate trade deals, despite just a handful of his party members voicing support for the measure.
The move comes as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signaled that the president will have to count on Republicans to get the measure passed.
“I think that 200 is what [House Speaker John Boehner] should come up with,” Pelosi, D-California, said Thursday. “The speaker should be able to deliver 200 votes. The awesome power of the speaker -- I know of what I speak.”
Currently, just 17 Democrats have publicly declared their support for the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – that’s only about 9 percent of House members supporting one of the top legislative agendas of their party leader.
It was not clear how many of the 245 Republicans support the TPA, which would allow Congress to fast-track trade deals for several years, but several dozen are expected to be opposed. The trade measure has been a potentially toxic issue for Democrats because of the possibility that it will affect jobs on the home front.
“I think it's too early to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the argument,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl in Thursday’s White House press briefing.
“Remember, our goal here is to, not alone, build a lot of Democratic support for this bill, our goal here is to build sufficient bipartisan support for this bill that will pass the House of Representatives, and that's the effort that we're engaged in right now,” Earnest said.
Though Earnest said the White House’s efforts on Capitol Hill have been focused primarily on Democrats, he said the administration is not hesitating to also reach out to persuadable Republicans.
“There is a reason to think that there are some Republicans, a lot of Republicans who could get on board with this piece of legislation too in terms of the impact it would have on the economy in the United States,” he said. “And so we're not hesitating to make that case either, but our efforts have principally been focused on Democrats.”
House Speaker John Boehner refused to reveal during his own press conference Thursday just how close the GOP leadership is to lining up enough votes for passage.
“I'm not the whip, so I don't get into vote counts,” Boehner said. “We're working to get the trade promotion authority finished, and as I said before, it's important for the country.”
Boehner said he has been meeting with members over the last few days and spoke to President Obama on Wednesday.
“He's got some work to do, too,” Boehner said of the president.
Pelosi has not ruled out supporting TPA, but however guarded her comments have been she cited “an opportunity to do something great” in terms of the United States’ presence in the global economy.
“Our members are taking this very, very seriously. We have many members who are not supporting this, who have, over time, always supported trade initiatives, that just don't think that this reaches the standard that we need to go forward with 11 different kinds of countries,” she said. “But you have to ask them individually, because these are individual votes.”
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