Senate Democrats block first vote on Obama's trade deal

At center, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) arrives for a news conference after a policy meeting with Senate Democrats, on Capitol Hill, April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer, Getty Images

Senate Democrats blocked a vote to begin considering a bill that would speed up congressional approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). With all but one Democrat opposing the bill, President Obama now faces an even tougher battle to conclude the deal.

The vote Tuesday would have begun debate on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), legislation which would "fast-track" the trade deal through the congressional approval process. Lawmakers would have to vote yes or no on the entire trade deal and would forego the ability to change individual provisions. If the president isn't granted this authority, it will be far more difficult for him to make any progress on either TPP or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Just 52 senators voted to begin debate on TPA, eight short of the 60 votes that were required. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, was the only Democrat who voted in favor. Three senators - Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida - did not vote. Forty-five senators voted against beginning debate on the measure, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. His "no" vote will allow him to bring it up at a later date.

McConnell called the result "pretty shocking."

In the hours leading up to the vote, a group of pro-trade Democrats said they would not support the bill because they could not secure a commitment from McConnell to hold votes on three other trade-related measures: a customs bill that cracks down on Chinese currency manipulation, child labor, and unfair trading practices; Trade Adjustment Assistance, which compensates American workers adversely affected by trade deals; and the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

"Our special concern this afternoon is about a lack of commitment to trade enforcement," said the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, who is a strong supporter of the trade deal. "Short-shrift for trade enforcement is legislative malpractice and until there is a path to get all four bills done, you're going to see a number of pro-trade Democrats, Democrats who want to get this bill passed, you will see them vote no."

McConnell said the Democrats' demands were unreasonable.

"They're demanding that we guarantee an outcome in advance of going on a bill," he said. "What I've said is that this bill will be open for amendment. All amendments will have a chance to be offered, but we can't have an amendment process until we get on the bill."

Republicans are in the rare position of sharing Mr. Obama's desire to see the trade deals passed over the objections of many Democrats. Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, said Democrats were throwing the president under the bus.

"It's a question does the president of the United States have enough clout with members of his own political party to produce enough votes to get this bill debated and ultimately passed," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. He said the vote represented, "a failure of the president's ability to convince members of his own party to support a piece of legislation that he himself supports."

CBS News Producer John Nolen contributed to this report.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for