Obama to deliver Democratic pep talk as a disagreement looms

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks to President Obama after he delivered the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on January 28, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong, Getty Images

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will huddle with House Democrats at their annual retreat in Cambridge, Md., Friday. Officially billed as a forum to talk policy, the policy discussion generally dovetails with the politics of a tough midterm election for the president's party.

On many issues, the president and House Democrats are on the same page. Raise the minimum wage? Check. Extend unemployment benefits? Check.

But they’ll have to face up to one issue where they are at odds – and where Republicans will likely look to exploit that divide: Trade Promotion Authority, or the ability of a president to fast-track two major trade deals with Asia and Europe through Congress without amendments and only limited debate.

Mr. Obama wants Congress to fast-track these new trade deals, so much so that he made it a part of his 2014 State of the Union address.  And Republicans, who want the trade deals to pass, have – in a rare moment of agreement with the president – urged him to take up the issue. 

“If the president means what he says about trade promotion authority, I think it’s time for him to pull out all the stops," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio said last month. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told the president to “step up for American workers and increased exports by bringing his party on board with the trade promotion bill.”

Democrats have absolutely zero interest in the bill, which they fear could harm American jobs and manufacturing as well as the environment. Three quarters of House Democrats have already told the president in a letter that they will not support fast-tracking the bill. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said it was “out of the question” in a speech to the United Steelworkers and the BlueGreen alliance. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., long an opponent of large free-trade deals, said, “everyone knows how I feel about this…Everyone would be well-advised not to push this right now.”

Either the president or his top allies in Congress will have to back off their position, and both Reid and Pelosi seem unlikely to do so.

So perhaps it’s best for the sake of peace to stick to politics, where the president and the rest of the Democratic Party are more in unison.

On Thursday, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), gave an hour-long presentation to his colleagues. According to a source in the room during his presentation, he framed the upcoming election as a question for voters of which party is on their side.

Both the president and Democrats have paid special attention to increasing the minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance, and preserving the Affordable Care Act.

"In all the polling, on the issues that matter to the American people, we're winning,” Israel told Democrats.

It’s not far from Mr. Obama’s pledge to take executive action where he can to help the American people on issues like education and retirement savings rather than waiting for a dysfunctional Congress. And Democrats think that dysfunction is something they can campaign on.

"Never in history has a majority run in a midterm election with a job approval at 12 percent,” Israel said.

Though Democrats stand almost no chance of taking back the House of Representatives, they will still work to gain seats where they can, including in 11 Republican-held open seats. The DCCC outraised its Republican counterpart by $15 million in 2013 and President Obama has committed to at least 6 events to raise more money for the group, which will help them with the coming midterms.

After the retreat, the president will head for Fresno, Calif., where he will visit a farm and participate in a roundtable discussion with people affected by the region’s severe drought.

CBS News producer Alicia Budich contributed to this report.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.