WASHINGTON — Despite the support of nearly every Republican in the U.S. Senate, including both from Texas, economic legislation seen as key to President Obama's legacy was blocked on the U.S. Senate floor Tuesday.
Senate Democrats united against the proposal authorizing Obama to negotiate with Pacific Rim countries on a massive trade deal that has been years in the making. And the Obama-Republican coalition was unable to pull together enough votes to meet the 60-vote threshold to stop a filibuster.
Fifty-one Republicans and a single Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, backed the authorization. Forty-five senators voted to block the measure.
The debate over whether to give Obama that power splintered the Texas delegation in recent months, creating strange alliances between liberals and conservatives on both sides of the issue.
"I know this is a priority for the president, and this happens to be a subject that we agree with the president on," Cornyn said Tuesday morning before the vote. "There's bipartisan support for the legislation. ...Why would we shy away from starting the debate and allowing that amendment process to go forward?"
The why, at least in the Democratic world, is vehement opposition from labor unions. But there is also a contingent of conservative House Republicans who are against giving Obama any power whatsoever.
The legislation would have given Obama the power to negotiate a Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 other countries including Australia, Japan, Chile and Vietnam. The deal could rival the North American Free Trade Agreement in economic impact on the U.S. The Trans-Pacific Partnership would make up one-third of the world's trade and about 40 percent of the world's gross domestic product, according to the Brookings Institution.
If he arrives at a deal with foreign leaders, Obama would bring it back to Congress for a straight up or down vote, with no chance for lawmakers to change the wording or terms.
Known as “Trade Promotion Authority,” the authorization is colloquially called "fast track" on Capitol Hill. The authority has been handed to presidents in the past. The logic for the unusual nature of the legislation is that it's nearly impossible for a national leader to negotiate with foreign heads of state on economic issues with hundreds of legislators trying to get involved, subjecting the deal to dozens of amendments.
Two Capitol Hill staffers say that they expect to see the Senate address the legislation again and that this first vote is more about posturing than an intent to kill the legislation. When it became clear the vote was not going Obama's way earlier in the day, the president's spokesman called the development a "procedural snafu."
Like the U.S. Senate, Obama and Republicans will need Democratic crossover votes if the legislation goes to the U.S. House. Some Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill project that Republicans and Obama will need somewhere 20 to 30 Democrats to pass the bill in that chamber.
Some of those Democrats will be from Texas.
U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, penned an op-ed in support of the legislation. At the same time, labor unions are heavily lobbying Democrats against the measure, and liberals like U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, are telegraphing opposition to the measure.
House Republicans are also divided.
Some Republicans, like U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, are vehemently against the deal, on the grounds that they will not back giving Obama any more executive power. Other Republicans, like U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, back the authorization, citing economics in their home districts.
"None of this is easy for Republicans or Democrats," Cornyn said Tuesday morning. "This is a complex topic."
"We can't do it alone," he later said.