President Barack Obama’s quest for a Pacific Rim trade deal to strengthen U.S. ties with Asia advanced on Tuesday, with the Senate moving toward a final vote on granting Obama the power to speed trade agreements through Congress.
Senate approval of “fast-track” negotiating authority for the president was likely to follow on Wednesday. That would move the trade package closer to completion, but a hurdle on a related measure remained in the House of Representatives.
In a win for Obama and a defeat for labor unions skeptical of the trade deal, the Senate voted 60-37 to limit debate on the fast-track measure. That just barely satisfied the 60-vote threshold needed after two senators who supported the bill on its first run through the Senate a month ago – Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Ben Cardin – changed their votes to “no.”
“Today is a very big vote. It’s an important moment for the country,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the chamber’s top Republican, in urging senators to support Obama’s 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, a central part of his foreign policy pivot to Asia.