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Democrats hand White House stinging defeat by rejecting key trade proposal

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President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi walk through a hallway after meeting with House Democrats at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, June 12, 2015. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — In a stunning defeat for the White House, Democrats in the House on Friday voted down a measure creating an assistance program for workers displaced by free trade agreements, throwing final passage of the proposal in jeopardy until at least next week.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said she would vote against key elements of President Barack Obama’s trade agenda, issuing a fatal blow to the White House just moments before voting began on the House floor.

The development throws Obama’s proposed trade deal with Asia into limbo. The House is planning to reconsider the defeated Trade Adjustment Assistance measure by Tuesday. That vote will determine if this trade deal is derailed.

Earlier Friday, Obama went to Capitol Hill to meet with Democrats to push for support on a vote related to trade authority, but that effort appeared relatively futile as only 40 Democrats voted for the TAA measure.

House Democrats, the vast majority of whom are trying to defeat fast-track trade legislation, heard from the president ahead of the final vote on the legislation.

As he left the meeting, Obama said “I don’t think you ever nail anything down around here. It’s always moving.”Some Democrats said the president’s outreach was coming too late to save the package.

“The president tried to both guilt people and impugn their integrity. I was insulted,” said Rep. Peter Defazio, D-Ore.

“Where has he been? He went to the baseball game and didn’t talk to anyone,” another Democrat said before the meeting, referring to a congressional baseball game on Thursday night that Obama attended.Democrats will need to provide a handful of votes to offset some Republican opposition and carry the TAA bill — which is critical for passing Trade Promotion Authority legislation — across the finish line.

But the Democratic member, who declined to speak on the record and is an opponent of both bills, said there are 124 “hard nos” (out of 188). If that number holds and Obama doesn’t flip votes the TAA bill won’t pass and TPA won’t even get a vote.

With the toxic politics of trade dividing their party, Pelosi and her leadership team have been largely on the sidelines. The Obama administration, instead, was relying on Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind and a small band of pro-trade House Democrats to pass the president’s top key economic issue.

“If this goes down, Obama will go on to negotiate a worse TPP,” Kind said after the meeting Friday.

House Speaker John Boehner has said for months the president’s trade agenda can’t pass without help from Democrats, so the low-key Wisconsin legislator has been methodically working behind the scenes to boost the meager Democratic vote.

“Our rules, no rules or China’s rules — it can’t be made any simpler than that,” Kind says, describing his pitch on why members should vote for the bill.

He argues that if Congress won’t give the president this authority to negotiate with a host of trading partners, the United States will be at a competitive disadvantage.

Kind is serving his 10th term representing the 3rd Congressional District, located on the western side of Wisconsin. From his post on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, he has been involved in other key policy battles that divided Democrats, including health care, which he called “exhausting.”

Although he wasn’t in Congress for the fight over the North American Free Trade Agreement that passed narrowly in 1993, Kind says the fallout from that deal — with jobs going overseas — set up a tough road for Democrats to publicly support legislation setting up another major trade deal.

“Early on I was just encouraging my colleagues to keep your powder dry. There’s going to be a lot of pressure from a lot of groups out there to pin you down early before you have all the facts and information. Keep your mind open and let the administration make the case and not get too far out ahead of it,” he said.

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