Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington
To hear the White House tell it, the Obama administration closed out the week with a banner day. “Today, Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to help the United States negotiate and enforce strong, high-standard trade deals that are good for American workers and good for American businesses,” President Obama said in a Friday afternoon statement. “That’s a good thing.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest pressed the point from his podium. “We’re obviously gratified that we were able to advance that piece of legislation with bipartisan support,” he said. If chutzpah could pass trade deals, Team Obama would have nothing to worry about. Alas, it cannot. And the White House didn’t in fact have a good Friday. Instead, it was disastrous on a potentially historic scale.
Three weeks after the Senate voted narrowly to hand Obama the negotiating power to wrap up a legacy-defining, 12-nation Pacific Rim pact, members of his own party in the House broke ranks to stop his trade push cold in its tracks. They sunk a measure to extend assistance to workers displaced by globalization — a program that for decades has gathered uniform Democratic support — as a protest against the broader trade package. Its passage was necessary to send the Senate-passed version, which combined the worker assistance funding with the fast-track authority, to the president’s desk. House Republicans decided to press ahead after that implosion, securing a slim majority for the fast-track authority alone, a partial victory the administration spun as total. But the case remains that Obama’s trade agenda, his top legislative priority and the cornerstone of his second-term economic program, now hangs in limbo — “stuck in the station,” in the words of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), an ordinarily loyal lieutenant whose last-minute defection stunned the White House and effectively sealed the package’s defeat.
You’d have to search previous presidencies to find a similarly stinging rebuke from a commander-in-chief’s own Congressional regulars (House Republicans tanking George W. Bush’s first stab at a Wall Street bailout comes to mind). For Obama, the betrayal is particularly bitter, because he made something of an effort, most recently turning up Thursday night at the annual Congressional baseball game and then again Friday morning in the Capitol to press Democrats to stick with him. Some Obama-ites lampoon the critique of the President’s anemic Congressional outreach as hopelessly naive, arguing the calculus that informs each lawmaker’s decision on a make-or-break vote is too complex to be short-circuited by presidential charm. But if Obama himself didn’t believe it could make a difference, he wouldn’t have bothered showing up on Thursday and Friday. And behind closed doors, he made the case that his record fighting for working families should earn him the good faith from fellow Democrats that he’s protecting their priorities in secret trade talks. Their near-consensus reaction: “Too little, too late.”
There are other factors at work, of course. One key subplot is the surprising potency of a seemingly moribund labor movement, proved by the campaign that unions have mounted to overwhelm big business. It’s still premature to declare a time of death on Obama’s trade agenda. The administration has options to revive it. But that such a high-stakes initiative — one joining a Democratic White House with Congressional Republican leaders, backed by a well-funded, coordinated push from the corporate lobby — collapsed so spectacularly could well reverberate through the remainder of the president’s term.
• Clinton launches her presidential campaign, again
Hillary Clinton is launching her presidential campaign today at a symbolism-drenched rally on Roosevelt Island in New York City. If a Hillary Clinton presidential launch sounds familiar, that’s because it already happened, by video, back in April. But today’s rally is meant to captivate a larger audience while laying out in more detail the purpose and themes of her candidacy. The event comes and public opinion polling shows her popularity listing in the face of continued scrutiny of her family foundation’s finances and questions about her use of a private email address during her tenure as Secretary of State. New York Times
• Meanwhile, her silence on trade is angering liberals
When Democratic activists tune in Saturday to see if Hillary puts some policy meat on the bones of her bid, there’s one issue in particular they want to hear her address. The Democratic frontrunner has remained silent on the trade debate dividing the party in Washington, to the mounting frustration of progressives who want her to declare herself and view her continuing refusal to do so as a signal that she can’t be trusted. Politico
• Chinese hack of the feds wider than initially thought
If you’re a current, former or potential federal employee, there’s a chance Chinese hackers now have some of your sensitive personal information. That’s the conclusion investigators reached from an examination of a recent breach. Federal officials don’t yet have a sense of how many employee files may have been exposed. And the Obama administration is so far declining to implicate the Chinese government as being directly responsible. Washington Post
• Romney won’t endorse but is willing to say he likes Rubio and Bush
Don’t hold your breath for a Mitt Romney endorsement in the 2016 Republican presidential sweepstakes. The 2012 nominee says he has no plans to wade into the primary by picking a favorite, though he does have favorable things to say about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, two contenders battling for the moderate-ish mantle he once carried. Romney made the remarks at his E2 summit, a gathering that’s brought six GOP hopefuls together with many of the bold-faced names from his donor network for a weekend conference in Deer Valley, Utah. TIME
Around the Water Cooler
• The Iowa Straw Poll is dead. Could the Iowa caucus be next?
The same peculiarities that convinced Iowa Republican chiefs to shutter their August straw poll could also describe the Hawkeye State’s first-in-the-nation caucus contest. There are reasons to believe the 2016 presidential primary could be the last to feature Iowa as its first hurdle. It’s a possibility Iowa politicos themselves are actively contemplating. FiveThirtyEight
• Elizabeth Warren is counter-punching Jamie Dimon in their ongoing verbal feud
The JPMorgan made headlines earlier in the week by suggesting that the freshman Massachusetts Senator and Wall Street scourge doesn’t really understand the industry she’s famously villainized. Warren had a ready comeback on Friday. “The problem is not that I don’t understand the global banking system,” she said. “The problem for these guys is that I fully understand the system and I understand how they make their money. And that’s what they don’t like about me.” Can we get these two on the same stage? Fortune
• The Republican who blew up our campaign finance system is obsessed with Paris Hilton
Shaun McCutcheon, the unlikely conservative standard-bearer for the legal challenge that helped open up campaigns to unlimited outside spending, is enjoying his quirky celebrity. That means, in part, traveling around the world to hang out at parties headlined by Paris Hilton and get his picture taken with her. He’s taken to documenting the evidence on his Instagram account. Washingtonian