Missouri’s Sen. Claire McCaskill was one of only 13 Democrats who voted Tuesday to pave the way for President Barack Obama to get fast-track trade authority.
McCaskill voted to end debate on a controversial bill that would allow the president to seek congressional approval for trade deals through a simple up-or-down vote without amendments. Tuesday’s 60-37 vote clears a major procedural hurdle for the bill to pass the U.S. Senate.
Unions strongly oppose the bill and were particularly incensed that McCaskill and other Democrats voted to proceed even though it didn’t include a program to help U.S. workers harmed by trade deals. The Senate is expected to vote later this week on a separate bill that would authorize such a program.
McCaskill’s office defended her vote. She had also supported a vote to move ahead with fast-track authority in May.
“Claire’s committed to opening up new markets to Missouri’s farmers and manufacturers – and to checking the influence of China, whose predatory practices incite a race to the bottom on wages and environmental controls,” John LaBombard, a spokesman for McCaskill, said in an email.
LaBombard said the legislation would include enforcement standards, strong protections for workers and a crackdown on currency manipulation by foreign governments.
Opponents of the trade pact were unmoved.
“We’re disappointed in her vote, real disappointed, and we weren’t able to get a face-to-face meeting with her to really sit down and have a good dialogue with her,” said Emil Ramirez, Midwest region director for United Steelworkers in Kansas City, Mo.
Ramirez said he was disturbed that McCaskill’s vote helped “grease the wheels” for the Obama administration to complete the negotiations on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“All workers in this country are going to be damaged by the passage of this agreement, he said.
Said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa in a statement: “Yet again, workers have been tossed aside by some lawmakers who are more interested in pleasing their corporate cronies than doing what’s best for their constituents.”
Communication Workers of America, a union for telecommunication and information technology workers, had protested outside McCaskill’s office earlier this week.
The union said Tuesday that McCaskill and the other senators who voted in favor of moving ahead with the fast-track authority bill “showed beyond doubt that they’re on the side of the 1 percent, not ordinary Americans, not working families and not U.S. communities.”
Fast track is a betrayal of U.S. workers and law, the union said in a statement.
“These senators caved to corporate interests that want access to poverty wages in Vietnam and the ability to challenge any U.S. laws they believe will get in the way of ‘future expected profits,’” the statement said.
Missouri’s Republican Sen. Roy Blunt also voted to end debate on Tuesday, along with Kansas GOP Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran.