Rep. John Fleming questioned why House Speaker John Boehner and other top Republicans worked feverishly to resuscitate President Barack Obama's trade agenda Thursday when "this is a president who criticizes America and seeks to harm America while giving a pass to other countries."
"What's mystifying to me is why our House leadership, Speaker Boehner, want to hand President Obama a huge political victory and at the same time give him a huge new tool that he can use to damage Americans and damage the America economy?" the Louisiana Republican asked in an interview.
Fleming's question followed the House voting 218-208 to grant Obama fast-track authority to negotiate trade agreements with foreign nations.
The move came after Democrats handed the president an embarrassing defeat last week by killing a related bill that would have provided retraining aid to Americans who lose their jobs because of such accords.
Obama and House and Senate Republican leaders worked vigorously to bring forth Thursday's second vote on the fast-track authority.
passed as an unrelated amendment to other legislation, was backed by 190 Republicans and opposed by 158 Democrats.
"Why would we want to do that, when this man has proven over and over again, through many of his decisions, that he's perfectly willing to harm American workers' jobs, culture and many other aspects of American life?" Fleming asked. "And now, we're just handing him just another huge opportunity to do that."
Known formally as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), fast track would allow a president to negotiate liberalized trade deals that Congress could only approve or reject, not change. Obama is seeking the authority to complete a deal with 11 Pacific nations.
Fleming was among the 50 Republicans voting against the authority. They, like many Democrats, have argued that fast track would ship even more American jobs overseas and give Obama too much latitude in negotiating the deals in secret with very little congressional oversight.
Other Republicans argued that the trade deals usurp the U.S. Constitution, which requires that international treaties be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate.
"This is the only leverage that we've had," California Rep. Duncan Hunter, who also opposed the fast track, told Sean Hannity on his radio program after the vote.
When he sees Republicans talking on TV about the bill, "it's almost like Obama is talking," Hunter said.
"This is the way the president puts America on the same level as everybody else," he added. "We're lowering ourselves to everybody else's standards. … We're saying, 'Hey Vietnam, we're just like you.'
"My greatest fear is what the president is going to do with it," Hunter said, referring to the constitutional issues. "It's sad to see our conservative leaders espouse his talking points on the House floor."
West Virginia Rep. David McKinley said that "trade may be beneficial to many parts of the country but not to West Virginia.
"We’ve seen how unfair trade has crippled industry and industry in our area: steel, chemicals, pottery, glassware, and chinaware," he added. "Giving President Obama more power to negotiate trade deals will not help West Virginians."
Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine cited the Obama administration's "abysmal record of negotiating agreements with foreign nations" in opposing fast track.
"It has an equally abysmal record of overriding Congress and taking unconstitutional actions too numerous to list," he added. "We cannot trust this president with an up-or-down vote without amendments or filibuster.
"While I support free trade, Congress should have waited until we get a new president before taking up TPA."
In granting Obama the authority, Boehner said that "Republicans are working with Democrats in the House and Senate to pass trade promotion authority." He described it as "work to advance the people’s priorities.
"We’re committed to ensuring that both trade promotion authority and trade adjustment assistance pass the House and Senate and go to the president for his signature," Boehner added. "Getting this work done is critical to expanding opportunities for American workers and American-made goods.”
The fast track bill was sent to the Senate for consideration. The Senate originally passed fast track and the assistance bill last month. It has to be reconsidered by the upper chamber because it was amended to other legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set up votes for early next week. While alluding to the bill's near death last week, the Kentucky Republican maintained that the measure could be sent to Obama before July Fourth.
McConnell said it would require "working together toward the shared goal of a win for the American people. ... Trusting each other to get there. I think we can."
But Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions reiterated his opposition to giving Obama fast track, telling Hannity that other trade agreements waiting to be negotiated could bring further harm to the U.S. economy.
One in the works would bring together the United States and the European Union, while another would permit global labor mobility among more than 50 nations.
"They can change any of the laws that created them," Sessions told Hannity. "They brag about it being a living document. It has all the earmarks of a nascent European Union.
"We're creating a union that has powers far greater than we've known," the senator added.
"They woke up in England one day and no longer could fox hunt because of what the European Union had done."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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