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VOL. 39 | NO. 25 | Friday, June 19, 2015

Senate poised to hand Obama big victory on negotiating trade

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress was poised to hand President Barack Obama a major victory on trade Wednesday, with the Senate set to approve "fast track" negotiating authority and House Democrats dropping their opposition to a part of the legislative package.

The developments represented a remarkable turnabout for an initiative that House Democrats nearly killed this month.

Opening Senate debate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a frequent Obama antagonist, credited the president and Democrats who joined the GOP on the bipartisan measure long sought by a president nearing the end of his second term.

"We were really pleased to see President Obama pursue an idea we've long believed in," said McConnell, R-Ky. "We thank him for his efforts to help us pass a bill to advance it."

A final potential hurdle in the House crumbled when Democratic leaders said most colleagues would support a job retraining program that Obama wants.

Some anti-free-trade Democrats had urged defeat of a program meant to help workers displaced by trade agreements. Some saw the possible demise of the usually Democratic favorite as a possible way to pressure Obama not to sign fast track into law.

Obama has said he expects to enact the fast-trade measure and the retraining bill simultaneously. But with fast track headed to Obama, House Democrats acknowledged that there was no realistic way to force the president's hand.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California told colleagues that she would vote for trade adjustment assistance. Pelosi said it's time to start scrutinizing global trade agreements that Congress eventually will have to decide.

Other Democrats said they expect heavy support for the retraining program.

Unions and most congressional Democrats say free-trade deals cost U.S. jobs and reward countries that pollute and mistreat workers. But Obama and most Republican leaders say U.S. products must reach broader markets.

Approval of fast track would boost Obama's hopes for a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade agreement that is essential to his effort to expand U.S. influence in Asia. Negotiating parties include Japan, Malaysia, Mexico and Canada.

If granted fast-track authority, Obama would ask Congress to ratify the Pacific deal after the public has weeks or months to study it.

Some anti-trade groups say they will strongly oppose the Pacific pact. Others seem more resigned to the likelihood of new U.S. trade agreements in Obama's final months in office.

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