Did Anti-Fast Track Senators Miss an Opportunity to Slow Down TPP?

Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: On Wednesday the Senate granted fast track authority to President Obama. The Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, passed with 60 votes in favor of the bill. 38 Senators, like West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin were against it.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I’ve not had one West Virginian, average working West Virginian who had a good job at one time, that have lost a job, that thinks that this type of approach to trade is good. Not one. I’m sure Wall Street’s very happy today. And I have a lot of friends that work on Wall Street, and there’s a lot of good people that work on Wall Street, but there’s a lot of people basically just driven by the almighty dollar. It’s not driven by Main Street. They’re not worried about West Virginia. They’re not worried about my little town of Farmington, or any part of my state. And they’re going to be very happy.

DESVARIEUX: Manchin is not alone in his opposition. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont were all vocal about their opposition to fast track leading up to the vote.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): This trade agreement will continue the policies of NAFTA, CAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China, agreements that have cost us millions of decent paying jobs. We need a new trade policy in America. A policy that represents working families and not just the big money interests.

DESVARIEUX: But could Sanders and other anti-fast track senators have done more procedurally to slow down fast track and possibly change the fate of the TPP?

ROBERT NAIMAN, FOUNDER, JUST FOREIGN POLICY: The people have used, quote-unquote, filibuster, to draw greater public attention. I say quote-unquote filibuster because people use the word in two different, overlapping sense. One is using Senate procedure to force a delay, in particular forcing a 60-vote majority by opposing a vote on cloture, a vote to proceed to a vote. Another meaning is giving a marathon protest speech.

DESVARIEUX: Robert Naiman is the founder of the organization Just Foreign Policy. He created a petition to urge anti-fast track senators like Bernie Sanders to lead a talking filibuster against fast track. In the end they received about 11,000 signatures. So we asked him, what kind of response did he get from the senators?

NAIMAN: They received it. They didn’t do anything really spectacular, as we’d hoped. Sanders and Brown who were two of the targets of the petition gave very strong speeches against fast track on the Senate floor. But we didn’t achieve the disruption in the dynamics that we hoped.

DESVARIEUX: It may sound like Naiman and other anti-fast track activists were hoping for something closer to something you’d see in Hollywood rather than in reality, like a scene from the iconic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

FILM, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON: Well, I’m not licked. And I’m gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause. Even if this room gets filled with lies like these and the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody will listen to me.

DESVARIEUX: But if you recall, back in May Sen. Rand Paul participated in a talking filibuster for 10 hours and 30 minutes to oppose the Patriot Act.

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R-KY): People wonder why Congress is so unpopular. It’s because we go from deadline to deadline, and then it’s hurry up, we have no time to debate you and just must pass it as-is.

DESVARIEUX: His talking filibuster changed the course of the patriot act debate. In the end the Patriot Act expired, and the Senate adopted the House’s version, called the USA Freedom Act. Also back in 2013 with Congress facing its shutdown, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz was on the Senate floor for 21 hours to protest Obamacare. It was not an official filibuster since Cruz was speaking in between votes. But the event got major media attention, especially since Cruz started to read the Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham to fill up time.

SENATOR TED CRUZ (R-TX): Do you like green eggs and ham? I do not like them, Sam I Am. I do not like green eggs and ham.

DESVARIEUX: When it came to this fast track vote, Cruz switched positions and voted against fast track.

SEN. TED CRUZ: Once again Congress has become enmeshed in back room deals. And they were using TPA as an opportunity to promote, among other things, reauthorizing the XM Bank. And potentially even enabling President Obama’s illegal expansion of immigration.

DESVARIEUX: We asked Senator Cruz’s office why the Senator didn’t filibuster against fast track this time around, and they responded that he had no comment on the matter. Even on the left, back in 2010, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders commanded the Senate floor for more than eight and a half hours for a marathon speech. He was protesting the extension of Bush-era tax cuts for households earning more than $250,000 a year. The result, a live webstream that gained tens of thousands of views, a flood of phone calls to his office, and Sanders was actually trending on Twitter.

So we ask, could anti-fast track senators like Sanders have done more to slow down the TPP?

NAIMAN: Yes, absolutely they could. And I think they would have if there were more of a groundswell.

DESVARIEUX: A real groundswell that is running out of time to expand. After President Obama signs fast track into law, Congress will have 60 days to review the deal. Then it’s up for a final vote. If there aren’t enough voices in the public opposing it, it looks like the TPP could be a done deal.

For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.

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