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Trade Clears Senate Hurdle, Despite Cruz Pulling Support

Despite Sen. Ted Cruz’s eleventh-hour change of heart on the biggest vote since he became a presidential candidate, the U.S. Senate cleared a major procedural hurdle Tuesday that will likely give President Obama the authority to negotiate the largest trade deal in American history.

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WASHINGTON – Despite Sen. Ted Cruz’s eleventh-hour change of heart on the biggest vote since he became a presidential candidate, the U.S. Senate cleared a major procedural hurdle Tuesday that will likely give President Obama the authority to negotiate the largest trade deal in American history.

After aligning himself as a chief advocate behind granting the president the power to negotiate a trade deal with 11 other Pacific Rim countries, Cruz abruptly pulled his support. The move created some anxiety Tuesday as to whether the coalition that Obama and Capitol Hill Republican leaders had pulled together to pass the measure would hold. But the coalition met the 60-vote threshold needed to end debate, and a final vote on the legislation is likely Wednesday.

In an op-ed in Breitbart News, Cruz charged Republican leadership with selling out on winding down the Export-Import Bank of the United States in order to get a trade deal through the Congress. The charter of the bank —which uses loan guarantees, direct loans and insurance to help U.S. businesses sell their goods overseas — expires June 30. Mainstream Republicans and business groups back the bank, but critics call it a symptom of “corporate cronyism” that picks economic winners and losers based on political connections.

“Enough is enough,” Cruz wrote. “I cannot vote for [Trade Promotion Authority] unless [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell and [House Speaker John] Boehner both commit publicly to allow the Ex-Im Bank to expire — and stay expired." 

In both chambers, congressional Republicans largely backed giving the president the authority to negotiate the massive trade deal. But right-wing groups and some House Republicans opposed the plan on the grounds of an unwillingness to give the president any more authority, even on a policy they might otherwise agree with.

Cruz, who declared his candidacy for the White House on March 23, was one of five Republicans to vote against the authority. The others included U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a fellow candidate for the GOP presidential nod.  

Cruz was on board for months, going so far as co-writing a Wall Street Journal op-ed with the deal’s lead advocate on the Hill, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

But in the weeks since that April op-ed, conservatives grew restive with giving the president the authority, tagging the deal “Obamatrade.”

Apparently sensing the frustrations, Cruz took to conservative radio for lengthy interviews on his position, emphasizing that he had voted in favor of Trade Promotion Authority, the authority to negotiate, but was undecided on the actual trade deal, which would come back to Congress in the fall. His campaign circulated a “Note to Conservatives” that sought to debunk some of the myths surrounding the deal. And Cruz himself hopped on calls with activists to field questions about his stance.

The deal had few friends on the Democratic side of the aisle, as labor unions and allied Democratic members threw roadblocks in front of the trade authority, known on Capitol Hill as “fast track.” 

Still, the president and trade advocates on the Hill continued to push a plan through, and Tuesday marked the final major procedural hurdle for the president.

But just hours before that Senate vote, Cruz dropped a bomb that had the potential to upset an already narrow vote count.

“After witnessing several senators huddle on the floor the day of the [Trade Promotion Authority] vote, I suspected that to get their votes on [trade authority], Republican Leadership had promised supporters of Ex-Im a vote to reauthorize the bank before it winds down,” Cruz wrote.

He attributed to his change in direction to the fact that the authority "has become enmeshed in corrupt Washington backroom deal-making." He described McConnell as “visibly irritated” when Cruz confronted him over any sort of deal cut to pass the authority. 

Later, on the Senate floor, Republicans and the president held their trade-friendly Democratic allies, and they just barely cleared the 60-vote threshold.

There was some anger at Cruz from Republicans on the Hill. But overall, GOP sources close to Republican leadership  shrugged off Cruz's move, chalking it up to presidential campaign theatrics.

This vote does not mean a trade deal is inevitable. There remains unresolved legislation tied to aid to workers impacted by the trade deal. But should the authority clear final passage in the Senate, the president is expected to return to Congress in the late fall with a deal that will be subjected to an up-or-down vote from both chambers. 

Cruz will speak on Wednesday at the Heritage Foundation, a group that opposed the authority along the lines that Cruz outlined in his second op-ed. His speech is titled “The People vs. the Washington Cartel: Restoring Liberty in the Age of Cronyism.”

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report. 

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