Democrats aren't yet applauding the trade agenda President Barack Obama outlined in his State of the Union address Tuesday, saying there are still many questions about how such agreements will help workers in the United States.
Both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, said they're waiting to see what Obama's trade agenda will entail, but Democrats have been divided for some time on the issue, reports The Hill
"I’m optimistic always that we can find a path to yes, but we have to change some attitudes,” Pelosi told MSNBC Tuesday before the president's address, saying there needs to be more consultation on the planned trade pacts.
“What I say to my own people is, the more we look willing to cooperate, the more we might be able to bring them over to prioritizing America's workers," Pelosi said.
Meanwhile, Hoyer predicted a "robust discussion" on the trade issue, but noted "the division within our party is nothing new on the issue."
House Democrats have argued for some time against many trade proposals, saying middle class jobs could be at risk of being exported to cheaper labor markets overseas if an Asian trade deal is signed, reports Politico
Back in 2011, most House Democrats rejected trade deals with Panama, Colombia and South Korea that were backed by the Obama administration, but Hoyer said he has supported some trade deals that were good for the economy.
According to the U.S. Trade Representative's Office, more than 1,600 meetings have been held with lawmakers, and they are open to discussing the trade agenda further.
In his address Tuesday, Obama
said he is asking both parties to allow him trade promotion authority, "with strong trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren't just free, but fair."
Obama admitted that past deals "haven't always lived up to the hype," and the United States has gone after the countries that break the rules.
"But 95 percent of the world's customers live outside our borders, and we can't close ourselves off from those opportunities," said Obama. "More than half of manufacturing executives have said they're actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let's give them one more reason to get it done."
Such fast-track talk bothered many of his most loyal supporters, including Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio, who told Politico that trade would be "No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4" of what House Democrats would "find objectionable to the speech, along with a long list of things we would like."
"To challenge Congress to pass policies that would bring us in line with the rest of the world, I think that is a great moment," DeFazio told Politico. "The one bad note was another job-killing, job-exporting free trade agreement identical to the ones pushed by [former Presidents Bill] Clinton [and George W.] Bush."
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, who chairs the House's progressive caucus, said he wanted Obama to explain how his plans would differ from the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994.
"I don’t want to dwell on the negative — 95 percent of what the president said, I loved it. Loved it," Ellison told Politico. "But on the trade stuff I’m not convinced.”
On the Senate side, there are also Democrats who are wary of the president's trade agenda talk.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who praised the president for changing the tax reform debate, said that even though Obama only used a small portion of his speech to address trade, "I didn't like it ... he talked about it enough."
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