Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that he won't agree to Democratic demands to combine several trade bills into one, and said doing so would only end up killing the effort to give President Barack Obama the authority to negotiate trade agreements.
McConnell spoke a day after almost every Senate Democrat voted against giving Obama trade promotion authority, or TPA — a huge loss for Obama, who seemingly had no ability to convince any significant number of Democrats to support him.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says Wednesday that no trade deal is possible under the terms Democrats are now offering, although there are signs a trade bill can move if Democrats agree to cut language dealing with currency. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File
McConnell said the bill would give Obama TPA, and also extend trade adjustment assistance for people who lose their jobs due to trade. Democrats were demanding more on the bill, including language that would ensure access to the U.S. market for sub-Saharan African countries, and a customs bill to ensure enforcement of U.S. trade laws.
The trade enforcement language includes controversial language that would let the U.S. treat currency manipulation as a trade barrier, an idea some Democrats have supported for years, but one that is opposed by the Obama administration. McConnell has indicated the idea of combining all four bills together can't be done because of the currency language.
"What we can infer from this is that the demand to merge four separate trade bills, including a customs bill, into one trade bill isn't a strategy designed to pass better trade legislation, but a poison pill designed to kill it," he said Wednesday morning.
"So we certainly won't be doing that, because our goal here should be to score a serious policy win for the American people, not claim a symbolic scalp for the extreme left," he added.
One possible way McConnell could change his mind is if Democrats agreed to dump the currency language, an idea that appears to be under discussion in light of Tuesday's failed vote. But McConnell didn't say specifically if taking out that language could allow all four bills to be combined.
In the meantime, Republicans in the Senate and House said the Tuesday vote was a stunning rebuke by Democrats of a priority item that Obama supports.
"It was really quite something to watch President Obama's party vote to filibuster his top domestic legislative priority yesterday," McConnell said. He noted that Obama himself has criticized those on the far left for opposing TPA.
"President Obama says the far left argument's don't 'stand the test of fact and scrutiny,' " he said. "It's President Obama who sys the far left is just 'making stuff up.' "
"In other words, hardly anyone believes there's a serious policy leg for these folks to stand on," McConnell added.
"They abandoned their president yesterday," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday.