WASHINGTON -- Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) may have just secured a vote to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank in the Senate after haggling with Republican leadership in the midst of a debate over trade legislation, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) isn’t having it.
Boehner told reporters Thursday that Cantwell contacted him to ask for a vote in the House to reauthorize the bank’s charter, which is set to expire at the end of June. The Ex-Im Bank is the nation’s export credit agency, helping companies sell goods and services overseas.
"She has contacted me, and I told her I would not make that commitment," Boehner said.
Reid Walker, Cantwell's spokesman, confirmed that Democrats secured a commitment from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to hold a vote on the bank in June.
"The vehicle will be negotiated between Senator Cantwell and Senator McConnell. The president committed that reauthorization of the credit agency will be a priority of his current trade agenda," Walker said.
The deal came as McConnell worked to lobby Democrats Thursday morning to support trade legislation that grants President Barack Obama expedited powers to funnel trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is currently being negotiated with 11 Pacific nations, through Congress.
The vote narrowly passed 62-38, with Cantwell and other pro-Ex-Im senators voting to push the trade bill over a key procedural hurdle in exchange for a vote to extend the bank's charter in June.
Pressed on the deal in the Senate, Boehner said "I don't believe that to be the case."
“At this point, the only commitment I’ve made was to Chairman [Jeb] Hensarling, that if the Senate sends a bill over, that there would be an open amendment process and the House will be allowed to work its will,” Boehner added. “That’s the only commitment that’s been made. There are a lot of options that could happen.”
While Cantwell appeared to be at the center of the deal after the Senate's morning vote on Thursday, one senior Democratic aide said that Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) played a dominant role in the last-minute negotiations. Murray has remained mum on whether she will try to rise in the party leadership ranks after Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) retires next year.
"What happened was Murray," the aide said. "She whipped hard in favor of the deal." Washington state's Boeing is the biggest beneficiary of subsidies from the Export-Import Bank.
Deep into the vote, Democrats were only three shy of successfully filibustering the measure, with 12 senators -- 10 Democrats and two Republicans -- still to vote. Cantwell, Murray, Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) all made clear to colleagues that they were planning to vote "no" when they arrived on the floor. Cantwell and Murray huddled repeatedly, including in the cloakroom, with Murray pressing Cantwell hard to find a way to get to yes, the aide said.
Murray staff approached staff for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), in charge of counting votes for Republicans. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, where Boeing also has a major plant, began to play liaison, working on Cantwell with Murray looking on.
At one point Cantwell left the floor to take a phone call from Obama. Boehner said Cantwell also called him, looking for assurance that any deal she struck with McConnell would be honored in the House.
McConnell then held a lengthy talk with Murray and Cantwell on the Senate floor. After several minutes of negotiations, the Washington senators finally cast votes in favor of the fast-track bill. Coons and McCaskill followed suit with a yes, sealing a victory for McConnell.
Pressed about the deal, Murray told reporters little.
"I supported the trade package that came out of this Finance Committee," she said. "I'm glad that we have a path forward on both Ex-Im and trade."
The path forward on Ex-Im was a promise that McConnell appeared to hand-deliver on a piece of paper to Cantwell during the vote. Cantwell had pledged to vote against proceeding unless she got a vote on the bank in June.
"Mitch gave a commitment that we would have a vote in June," Murray said.
"Graham was the first sign to me that we might be in trouble," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told The Huffington Post later Thursday afternoon.
Brown has been working hard to keep Democrats united on trade, pushing for a deal on specific amendments. He's not giving up, and is hoping to reach an agreement before the final vote on fast-track.
Brown admitted the morning vote was a slight setback, and said that once Graham started to split, it was clear something had happened on Ex-Im.
"Once Graham started to split off we knew the Ex-Im stuff wasn't quite what they were saying it was the day before," Brown said.
Brown said they lost because of Cantwell. Obama, who called her in the middle of the vote, helped move her over, he said. According to Brown, the president made some promises to Cantwell, but he didn't know the exact details.
"He won't deliver on it, he can't deliver on it, they never do," Brown said.
This story has been updated with more detail from the floor negotiations.
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