The liberal, anti-trade wing of the Democratic party joined with pro-trade moderates to block fast-track legislation, 52-45, in an effort to force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to swallow additional demands early Tuesday. Democrats want the Senate to pass new worker protections and child labor restrictions, in addition to the fast-track trade bill McConnell and Obama are pushing for.
But McConnell, just five months into his new role as majority leader, refused to bow to Democratic wishes, partially out of concern over ceding too much authority to the minority to dictate the chamber’s agenda. And the Republican leader suggested Democrats need to sort out their own intra-party differences.
“What we just saw here is pretty shocking,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) immediately following the vote. “What we just witnessed here is Democratic senators shutting down debate on the top economic priority of the Democratic president of the United States.”
The internal Democratic dispute places the president in an awkward position, caught between Republicans who want to work with him on the multi-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership pact and Senate Democratic leaders who are using their procedural leverage to get as much as they can out of McConnell. Trade proponents in both parties vowed on Tuesday to try to put the pieces back together and Tuesday’s fracas doesn’t mean the fast-track is dead, especially if Reid is committed to finding a way out.