Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday that Congress' upper chamber would give President Barack Obama expedited authority to negotiate major trade deals "later this week," despite strong opposition from members of the president's party.
The Senate voted to open debate on trade promotion authority last week. The issue is shaping up to be the most significant intra-party battle of Obama's second term, but the president has found support for his trade agenda among the Senate's Republican leadership. Fast-track authority would allow Obama to present the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote, meaning legislators couldn't offer amendments. The TPP is a proposed free trade arrangement among 12 countries bordering the Pacific rim.
"The president has done an excellent job on this," McConnell said in an interview with ABC's "This Week." "I point out to my members who are somewhat squeamish, as you can imagine, giving the president the power of any issue, given his expansive view of his powers on so many other issues. But this is a trade promotion authority not just for President Obama, but for the next president as well. This is a six-year trade promotion authority bill that will give the next president an opportunity to enter into additional trade agreements with other countries around the world."
McConnell had previously described his coordination with the president on trade as "an out-of-body experience."
Fast-track authority faces a significantly more difficult path in the House. Nearly all Democrats are opposed, as is a strong contingent of Republicans, who are hesitant to hand Obama a victory.
And yet Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was confident Sunday that the measure would pass the lower chamber.
"We will have the votes," Ryan said on CNN's "State of the Union." "We're doing very well. We're gaining a lot of steam and momentum."
Presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has so far remained quiet on TPP. While progressive groups want Clinton to come out against the trade deal, other Democrats want her to support it.
"I think she should take a good look at it," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said on ABC News' "This Week." "And I think it would be very helpful."