Each of the remaining serious presidential candidates has said the trade deal is a no-go — including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who helped with the negotiations under President Barack Obama. Now, with Donald Trump the de-facto nominee for the Republican party, Congressional leaders are left with a serious dilemma and facing a strategy overhaul to get the deal approved.
Initially some industry experts were focused on getting the deal passed in May and June, ahead of the summer recess and lame-duck Congressional session, but with Trump’s Indiana victory, it looks like some are eyeing the session after the election to see if the GOP can hold onto the Senate. It was always a concern by Congressional leaders that a vote on the trade bill could put some key senators and representatives in contested districts at risk come November, and Trump’s future nomination seems to be exacerbating the concerns.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has supported free trade legislation and went on record with CNN saying the U.S. needed to take advantage of the “opportunity” of free trade. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been less anxious to bring the deal up, especially with Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and senators in Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in tough races. Many times, McConnell has characterized the hopes of passing one of Obama’s legacy items as lousy.
“The biggest problem right now is that the political environment to pass a trade bill is worse than any time I have been in the Senate,” McConnell told Agri-Pulse last week. “We’re right in the middle of the presidential election year, and the candidates are all against what the president has negotiated.”
Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America president Matt Priest said he’s still hopeful the deal is approved and that he’s not surprised at the stance leadership is taking. According to FDRA estimates, the agreement will alleviate an estimated $500 million in shoe tariffs during the first year of approval. Priest said he was now eyeing the lame-duck session as a real opportunity, especially should Democratic contender Clinton win since she’s indicated some willingness to work on the deal.
“Hillary Clinton is more surgical in her critiques of the agreement,” said Priest. “If Trump is a drag-down on the ticket, and if the GOP lost the House or Senate, we could certainly see incentive for Congress and the administration to move [on the deal.]”
Overall, there are some other key points supporters are looking to with the deal. Primarily the fact that the next president will have the authority to negotiate trade deals as TPA was passed last summer, the deal can be adjusted in certain areas, and that there are still several years and various routes of approval for the TPP.