With his trade plans in trouble on Capitol Hill, President Barack Obama must "step up his game" if he expects to prevail in Congress, Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said Thursday.
Obama still lacks the votes for special trade-promotion authority, aimed at making it easier to pass his proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade pact to expand U.S. business ties in the Pacific Rim. The legislation would set the rules for debate, preventing amendments and allowing only an up-or-down vote.
While the legislation cleared both the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee last week, Boehner said the president will need to work harder to overcome strong opposition within his own party.
Only a dozen to 20 House Democrats have pledged to back the trade bill, which could come up for a vote by the full Senate as soon as next week.
"Trade has been very good for America, and it's created, frankly, millions of jobs in our country," Boehner said a news conference at the Capitol. "But I don't think those who are involved in trade have done a very good job of helping Americans understand the benefits of trade and why, in fact, it's good for America."
He predicted Obama’s plan would have strong support from Republicans but said all Democratic leaders in Congress oppose it.
"The president needs to step up to his game in terms of garnering more support amongst Democrats, especially here in the House," Boehner said.
At a separate news conference, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said that backers of the bill may have to make "some accommodations" to win more support from Democrats if they can’t line up the votes.
"I hope that we could find a path to yes on this," she said. "I'm not giving up on that."
To try to swing more votes, Obama called in a group of moderates from the New Democrat Coalition to meet with him at the White House.
White House Press Secretary John Earnest said Obama planned to "make a compelling case" on trade to skeptics, but he acknowledged that it might not be easy.
"There's no denying the historic, reflexive opposition that many Democrats have as soon as anyone even utters the word trade," he said. "The president's sympathetic to that."