Obama Visits Asia Pacific Nations Awaiting Action On TPP Trade Deal President Obama heads to Japan and Vietnam, two nations waiting for the U.S. to act on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the long-stalled multilateral trade pact.

Obama Visits Asia Pacific Nations Awaiting Action On TPP Trade Deal

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One of the surprise issues of this election cycle has been trade, and the big multilateral trade deal that's supposed to be a symbol of bipartisan cooperation may be on hold because of that. NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis has more.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: A chorus of powerful voices that includes the president, leading Republicans in Congress and the nation's top business lobby want to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But their support for TPP, as it's commonly known, has been drowned out this election year by one voice in particular.


DONALD TRUMP: So I say it's very bad deal - should not be approved. If it is approved, it'll just be more bad trade deals.

DAVIS: That's Donald Trump speaking there at a Fox debate. He is winning the Republican nomination with a campaign that is deeply skeptical on trade. He pledges to renegotiate TPP. Trumps' position is shifting the political climate in this Republican-controlled Congress. Lawmakers in tough races, like Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, agree with Trump. And Portman is a former trade ambassador for the United States.

ROB PORTMAN: I think it would be better to have it next year if at all, you know? We'll see what happens. I mean, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have come out against it, and both want to renegotiate it.

DAVIS: Clinton was in favor of TPP when she was secretary of state, but now she says she doesn't support the deal in its current form. But Obama was never relying on the strength of Democratic support in Congress to get TPP passed. Here's Maryland Democratic Senator Ben Cardin.

BEN CARDIN: Well, the majority of Democrats oppose TPP. And Hillary Clinton has expressed concerns about it. But I don't think that's the critical numbers. I think the critical numbers are on the Republican side.

DAVIS: Tom Reed is one of six house Republicans from Trump's home state of New York who are opposed to TPP. He says the numbers on the Republican side are simply not there.

TOM REED: The two magic numbers down here being 218 and 60 with the House and Senate numbers needed to pass the legislation. And with both candidates being opposed to TPP, I don't know how you get that number.

DAVIS: This is a complete reversal from where most Republicans stood when they took full control of Congress in 2014. The day after that election, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked to name specifically what he thought Republicans could accomplish with Obama.


MITCH MCCONNELL: Trade agreements - the president and I were just talking about that right before I came over here. Most of his party is unenthusiastic about international trade. We think it's good for America.

DAVIS: TPP supporters in Congress, like Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, are not giving up. But Hatch concedes the vote won't happen in the Senate before election day.

ORRIN HATCH: I intend to get it through, but I think the only way it's going to go through will be in the lame ducks.

DAVIS: Congress is only scheduled to be in for 15 days after the election. While it's not inconceivable Congress could act on a major trade deal then, it's a long shot. Again, Ben Cardin.

CARDIN: I think whenever you're talking lame duck, it's very speculative because no one knows how you're all going to feel after the elections.

DAVIS: White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that is precisely the reason TPP supporters should act soon.


JOSH EARNEST: It is very, very unlikely that the next president will be more enthusiastic about TPP than this president.

DAVIS: Tom Donohue, the top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, agrees. On a recent trade mission, Donohue acknowledged trade votes are some of the toughest votes a lawmaker can take and some of the toughest votes to find.


THOMAS DONOHUE: When you do vote a trade bill, what you need is, you need to win by two votes - one vote to win and one vote in case somebody dies on the way to the vote.

DAVIS: Donohue believes Congress will vote before the end of this administration, but that confidence is not shared on Capitol Hill. Susan Davis, NPR News, Washington.

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