Dems derail Obama on trade

President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. leave meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi led her Democratic troops Friday in a stinging, misguided rebuff to President Barack Obama’s trade agenda. They did so by paradoxically opposing help for workers displaced by imports.

That proposed assistance was part of a Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) package, passed last month by the Senate, to bring pending trade agreements before Congress for up-or-down votes. Yet most Democrats voted against that help for U.S. workers.

Ms. Pelosi told the House on Friday that she is not against helping workers but wanted to deny the president a victory on TPA. The unexpected dodge by many Democrats, combined with GOP disapproval of past trade adjustment assistance programs as wasteful, produced the defeat for the president — and for free trade.

It was a clever maneuver by Rep. Pelosi and her labor allies, but utterly cynical. And it could come back to haunt both Democrats and union leaders.

Though the House then handily passed the other half of the Senate bill authorizing trade promotion authority, the rejection of the first half means the bill goes back to the Senate, which may not be able to pass TPA without worker assistance.

And without a full package being approved, federal lawmakers could still amend trade agreements. That would leave U.S. presidents, and not just Mr. Obama, at a disadvantage in trying to negotiate trade deals.

President Obama went to Capitol Hill on Friday morning to make a fruitless, last-ditch appeal to House members of his own party. Now he has more time to work on Democratic senators, whose votes are needed to get the necessary 60-vote super majority.

But if the president doesn’t get the TPA package through both chambers, he could fail to reach trade-expanding agreements with nations engaged in more than $1 trillion in annual trade with the U.S. That outcome would inevitably strengthen China’s hand, and weaken America’s, in global commerce.

And if the unions win this round, U.S. workers will be among the losers.