In a setback to President Barack Obama's agenda, U.S. Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked the advance of a measure giving him authority to swiftly finalize a historic Pacific Rim trade deal.
Republicans backed Obama's bid for so-called trade promotion authority, but many Democrats felt betrayed by the measure's failure to include protections for American workers and prevent or penalize currency manipulation.
The measure would have allowed Obama to submit the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as an upcoming U.S.-Europe trade pact, to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote, with lawmakers forfeiting their right to make changes.
The White House has stressed that it requires such fast-track authority in order to finalize the talks with the 11 nations in the TPP, without the threat of Congress introducing changes to the pact once negotiations were completed.
But when Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to package the fast-track measure with three other trade bills, including one that cracks down on currency manipulation, Democrats balked.
All Democrats, including several who backed Obama's trade push, voted against formally opening debate on the measure, a procedure that needed 60 votes in the 100-member chamber but failed 52-45.
Democrats were "throwing their own president under the bus," Senate Republican John Thune said when it became clear Democrats would vote en bloc against the bill.
Top Democrats wanted McConnell to package the fast-track bill with three other pieces of legislation, including one that would help workers affected by the massive trade agreement and one to crack down on currency manipulation.
But McConnell refused to do so, saying it would be "unacceptable" to craft a backroom deal to bring forward all four bills for consideration at once.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, who crafted the package with Democrat Ron Wyden, expressed astonishment at the collapse of what he described as an agreement to move TPA and "trade adjustment assistance," which would help fund worker assistance programs.
"It's amazing to me that they would do this to the president, on a bill of this magnitude," Hatch fumed.
"It is the most important bill the president will have had in his presidency."
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015