By Tory Newmyer
September 17, 2016

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

While Donald Trump turned up at his new Washington hotel Friday to disingenuously renounce the birther conspiracy he’s stoked for years, President Obama was a few blocks up the street and a world away trying to revive the supersized Pacific Rim trade pact he still hopes will seal his legacy. Obama’s push isn’t generating anywhere near the fireworks of the rolling circus Trump calls a presidential campaign. But it might yet, and hints about how that could happen began to emerge this week.

For one, there was the wattage the White House assembled for the Friday strategy session, which included an impressive lineup of Republicans and business leaders. Among those in attendance: Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the onetime Trump rival for the Republican nod; billionaire former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg; Hank Paulson, George W. Bush’s last Treasury Secretary; and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty. The administration will tap them and others to make the case to lawmakers wary of free trade’s toxic status among their bases.

Then again, marshaling elite opinion behind the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership has never been a struggle. And Team Obama appears to believe that to sell the pact successfully in what little time is left, it needs to transform the wider public debate. That means replacing a pitch so far centered on the deal’s domestic economic upsides with a darker vision of the national security downsides if the U.S. fails to act. To that end, the administration this week quietly deployed Max Baucus, its ambassador to China, to Capitol Hill. He pressed the case that if the deal collapses, China, which isn’t party to it, will be able to operate unchecked in the region, according to a Congressional leadership source. Look for the White House to draw a narrower focus on that argument in the weeks ahead.

Just how jingoistic will a president famous for embracing nuance to a fault really go to secure a capstone victory? We’ll find out soon. Both Trump and Hillary Clinton oppose the pact and Congressional leaders in both parties are voicing skepticism it will even get a vote by the end of the year. But Obama badly wants the win. Facing stiff headwinds from on and off the Hill, he’ll need to scrap to get it.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

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