By Cheryl Bolen
Sept. 16 — President Barack Obama is escalating the fight for one of the last major achievements of his presidency—congressional passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement—by enlisting an eclectic mix of supporters.
Obama convened a meeting at the White House of TPP supporters that included Ohio Gov. and former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D) (See previous story, 09/16/16).
Whether the controversial 12-nation trade pact will pass this year now appears more dependent on the political message that Obama and his trade supporters can make to wavering lawmakers.
“This bipartisan group made up of business leaders, mayors, governors, Republicans, Democrats, national security leaders and military leaders—the reason they’re here is because they know this is important for our economy and they know that this is important for our national security and our standing in the world,” Obama told reporters at the start of the meeting.
Nationally, 11.7 million jobs are supported by countries that make up the TPP market, Reed said in remarks after the meeting.
“We think that this is a country-first moment and we believe that if you have a strong feeling and belief in American exceptionalism that you need to be a part of this effort,” Reed said. “And we think that that is going to help us carry the day.”
Former Rep. Kasich (R-Ohio), said one of the most persuasive arguments was talking about jobs.
“We had a great, brilliant woman in there today, the head of IBM, and I think the suggestion to her is to make sure that the employees of IBM let members of Congress know that this is about my job, this is about my family, this is about my community,” Kasich said.
Ginni Rometty, chairwoman, president and CEO of IBM, attended the meeting.
“I kind of think that at the end of the day, with the right appeals, people put their country ahead of political concerns,” Kasich said.
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, a group that opposes the TPP, said in a statement that opposition in Congress is growing.
Some statements against the trade deal, like that of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), seem to be a negotiating tactic to press for various changes or goodies rather than real opposition, Wallach said.
“But the real opposition to TPP by a dozen House GOP [members] that supported fast track is significant, given that is already double the margin by which fast track passed last summer,” she said (118 DER 118, 6/19/15).
Charles Dittrich, vice president for regional trade initiatives at the National Foreign Trade Council, said the president seems to be turning the focus back to the practical, centrist foundation of support for trade as an engine of economic growth.
“Looking at who he invited, he seems to want to show the practical reasons we are doing these agreement to begin with,” Dittrich said. “These are leaders at the local, state and sectoral level who care more about meeting payrolls, retaining and increasing jobs, building their tax base.”
At the most basic level of national security, military leaders recognize the strength of a strong, diverse, competitive American economy, he added.
It is unlikely that Obama will hold separate meetings on the TPP with foreign leaders while attending the 2016 United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 19-21, said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.
The president may see some leaders and interact on the margins, but given his recent trip to Asia and the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November, there will be other opportunities to continue to engage those leaders, Rhodes said.
“I think the event today demonstrates to the world that President Obama is continuing to make this a top priority for his remaining time in office,” Rhodes said.
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