White House press secretary Josh Earnest was looking on the sunny side of Pennsylvania Avenue after the administration’s trade bill hit a wall today.
Trade Promotion Authority passed 219-211, with 54 Republicans voting against the bill and 28 Democrats voting in favor. Trade Adjustment Assistance crashed on a 126-302 vote. Just 86 Republicans and 40 Democrats voted in favor of the bill.
“God, you’re cheery,” one reporter noted to Earnest at the top of today’s briefing.
The 28 House Dems who voted for TPA, Earnest told reporters, “significantly overperforms expectations.”
“Again, there was a lot of skepticism about how much Democratic support the president would succeed in building,” he said. “And getting the support of 28 House Democrats is a good sign of the kind of bipartisan majority that the president was seeking to build.”
Earnest called the vote a “procedural snafu” and “entanglements” that “are endemic to the House of Representatives.”
“And I say that as somebody who is — does not have a lot of experience in watching the floor of the House,” he added.
President Obama, in his visit to the Democratic Caucus today, “rather forcefully” told lawmakers “he wasn’t elected by the Chamber of Commerce.”
“[Obama] tried to guilt people and then impugn their integrity,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) told reporters after the meeting. “I was insulted.”
Earnest added to the guilt trip at the briefing. “We know that there are a lot of Democrats in the House of Representatives who ran for that job specifically to benefit middle class families and to make sure that they had a voice and somebody fighting for them in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “…The president had a productive visit with the House Democratic Caucus today.”
Tweeted Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus, after the meeting: “Now President Obama wants to talk?”
And just what went on behind closed doors? As Earnest tells the White House version, “explained how, as a young man, he left New York and traveled to the south side of Chicago, where he tried to help a community deal with the closing of steel plants.”
“And he talked about all of the work that he’d done in the community there to try to help that community confront the powerful forces of globalization,” Earnest continued. “He went on to talk about how as a candidate for the United States Senate he traveled to Galesburg, Illinois, with then-Congressman — Democratic Congressman Lane Evans. And while in Galesburg, the president spent a lot of time with citizens in that community who were dealing with the closure of the Maytag plant there. That’s a plant that moved to Mexico. And he talked about the impact that that had on the community and on middle class families in that community.”
“And the president said that he ran for this office determined to go and fight for the people that he fought for as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago, and determined to fight for the people that he met in Galesburg, Illinois.”
Earnest insisted that Obama “strongly encouraged Democrats to make up their own mind — and when they did, to play it straight.”
The press secretary was asked “what it felt like to have John Boehner bail out the president today with procedural moves.” Boehner’s moves enabled TAA to come back to the floor next week for a re-vote.
“I think that what you have seen over the last — certainly over the last week and the ground work has been laid in recent months, effective coordination between the White House and the speaker’s office to make progress on a shared priority,” Earnest replied.
“…I think that’s a testament to the president’s leadership ability, too, that he’s willing to set aside his own differences with them to try to find common ground on this.”